Car safety deal will cost thousands of lives, say experts

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Series Details Vol.7, No.43, 22.11.01, p21
Publication Date 22/11/2001
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Date: 22/11/01

By Peter Chapman

ROAD safety campaigners are warning thousands of lives could be lost if a plan to introduce safer car fronts is not binding on manufacturers.

They claim a mandatory directive, enforcing design alterations that would cost less than 21 euro a car, could save 2,000 lives per year.

The warning comes as single market ministers prepare to give their opinion next week on a deal agreed by Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, which he claims would deliver the same results as a more detailed measure that would take years to implement.

EU sources say only the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Sweden currently oppose the deal, which would involve the use of softer materials as well as design changes to bonnets and bumpers to reduce injuries to pedestrians in road accidents.

The shelved directive would have forced firms to meet tough legislative tests developed over two decades by car safety experts. Under the voluntary deal, however, industry would promise to meet less stringent tests designed to reduce injuries to the lower leg in adults and head injuries across the age range. These would apply to all newly launched models by 2005 and new cars in general by 2012.

A second phase would give industry the choice of either meeting the legislative tests between 2012 and 2014 for all new cars or "other measures that are at least equivalent".

But Jeanne Breen, director of the European Transport Safety Council, said research by the independent UK Transport Research Laboratory showed that the first phase in the voluntary code would be 75 less effective in cutting death and injuries than a binding directive.

The laboratory's findings indicate a non-binding code would save 500 of the 8,500 pedestrian and cyclists who die on Europe's roads each year; the law would result in 2,000 fewer fatalities. Even if the directive took two or three years longer to implement, it would save more lives in the long run, said Breen. At the same time, she claimed the costs to industry of complying fully with the legislative tests in a directive would be low.

Japanese car giant Honda's new Civic model already meets a little over 70 of the requirements of the legislative tests. In a response to questions tabled in the UK parliament, the government said the design changes had cost 10.50 euro per car.

"This new information both on the low fatality-reducing potential of the voluntary agreement and on costs shows that industry has clearly been pulling the wool over the eyes of various policy makers at the expense of public safety," she added.

Alfredo Philippone, communications director of the association of European car manufacturers (ACEA), said it was impossible to base cost calculations for the entire industry on the Honda data.

A voluntary system was a more flexible and efficient tool than legislation, he said, adding that the terms of such a deal could be updated quickly to take account of new safety developments such as high-tech sensor and telematic systems.

Road safety campaigners are warning thousands of lives could be lost if a plan to introduce safer car fronts is not binding on manufacturers.

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