European legal safety standards for vehicles years out of date

The European Transport Safety Council is calling for an overhaul of safety standards on vehicles to reflect modern technology and improve vulnerable road user protection.

According to a report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) analysing the market penetration of Euro NCAP rated cars, innovations in vehicle safety is benefitting too few road users on the continent. This has been cited as being due to an over-reliance on a voluntary testing programme such as Euro NCAP rather than regulatory standards.

Data examined during the research pointed to the fact that in 2013, only about 50% of new vehicles sold in Europe had been awarded the top 5-star rating from Euro NCAP between 2010 and 2013. There were also marked differences in brands with Dacia performing consistently poorly and Volvo outperforming all vehicle models on average across all aspects of vehicle safety, including the protection of vulnerable road users.

The report from ETSC focuses on pedestrian protection and is calling on both the regulatory bodies and Euro NCAP to raise the minimum standards for protecting vulnerable road users.

Towards mandatory standards

According to ETSC, the main block to faster progress on safety is that legally-mandated safety standards are years out of date. A car that only meets the current minimum safety standards in the EU would receive a zero-star rating today from Euro NCAP according to the report. Euro NCAP only tests a selection of vehicles each year, and also does not test every variant of each model.

Commenting on the need to move away from voluntary safety performance testing, ETSC’s executive director, Antonio Avenoso said, “We need an overhaul of vehicle safety in the EU to ensure that the latest advances benefit the many not the few. The starting point must be bringing today’s regulatory tests and required standard equipment bang up to date.”

The lag in uptake in life-saving technology is something which should be reduced, according to Avenoso, “In the past, it has taken twenty years for technologies such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to be made mandatory. This should not be allowed to happen again with the new generation of lifesaving technology such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Intelligent Speed Assistance and passenger Seat Belt Reminders.”

The EU is set to revise vehicle safety standards, as well as the vehicle ‘type approval’ process over the coming year. ETSC is calling for a range of vehicle technologies including Intelligent Speed Assistance, Advanced Seat Belt Reminders and AEB to be made standard equipment and for mandatory crash tests to be upgraded to match the current Euro NCAP tests.

Real world collision data

ETSC also says more work needs to be done to compare real world collision outcomes to laboratory crash test results. While the report found that several studies have found a correlation, on average, between higher Euro NCAP ratings, and a reduced chance of death or serious injury, the relationship is not true in all cases.

Real world collision investigation will become increasingly crucial as more cars are fitted with advanced technologies such as advanced emergency braking and lane assist because these systems are currently only tested in a limited and standardised way by Euro NCAP.

Commenting on the need for comparisons with real world collision data, spokesman for ETSC and the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research, Henk Stipdonk said, “To get a better understanding of how advanced driver assistance systems are behaving in the real world, we need to get a picture from across Europe of precisely what happens when these vehicles are involved in collisions. This will require in-vehicle electronic data recorders and a pan-European database of collision investigations. With this information, we can ensure that these systems are optimised and improved over time to save even more lives. This will also enable regulators to react faster to pick up potentially lethal safety problems”

In the UK, Executive Director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), David Davies commented, “PACTS welcomes this important report from ETSC. It shows how the voluntary safety rating system from Euro NCAP has helped to raise vehicle safety standards across Europe. The UK helped to establish this system and can be proud of what has been achieved. Now we need to go further and make cars much safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists as well as vehicle occupants. We also need to back the voluntary arrangements with higher regulatory safety standards across the EU.

Tax incentives

Research for the report from ETSC also discovered that green vehicle tax shifts in countries including Denmark and the Netherlands had failed to take account of safety, leading to higher sales of cars with lower safety ratings. ETSC advises countries to offer tax incentives only to ‘clean and safe’ vehicles. Five-star models in the fuel efficient supermini class include the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and all-electric Renault Zoe.

Commenting on the inclusion of safety ratings in vehicle tax concessions, Davies concluded, “The UK Government is seeking to raise consumer awareness of the Euro NCAP system and is exploring ways to increase consumer uptake of safer vehicles. One way would be to apply the company car tax concessions, announced in the Budget last week, only to vehicles with a five-star safety rating.”

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Vehicle Technology

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