Driving ambitions – to reduce deaths, ease emissions and invest in infrastructure

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Series Details Vol.10, No.32, 23.9.04
Publication Date 23/09/2004
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Date: 23/09/04

Two MEPs voice their opinions on the best route towards vehicle and environmental safety.

Carmakers can no longer merely pay lip-service to their environmental commitments, argues Michael Cramer

LEGISLATION at EU level is vital for the future of our cities, so that we have EU-wide rules on what is acceptable and what is not. Zero-emission vehicles should be the norm for taxis, buses and private cars. It is particularly vital now that the Union has enlarged. If you look at Poland, it has to come up to scratch on all environmental issues and that is better for Germany too. Laws do not stop for borders.

We also need to consider the future of oil. If the Chinese market explodes, and they begin to drive as we do here in Europe, in a few years there will be no more oil. We need a different EU policy for energy, whether it be solar power, biofuels, hydrogen power, whatever it might be. We have to push for energy that is very efficient and also drive for engines that are low on consumption.

We must also consider this issue from the consumers' point of view. Over the past 20-30 years, the environment movement both in the EU and globally has changed the way that people think and the way that they buy, and the car industry should listen to that. Automobile manufacturers do not like regulation because it costs them money, but they are wrong to say it is not possible technically. They always use this argument but it is a false argument that will cost them in the long term. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder sided with the car industry over filters for diesel cars, saying that he wanted to postpone their introduction and instead regulate at EU level. But this would have damaged the German car industry, because Germans are so sensitive to environmental issues that they would have bought a Japanese car with the diesel particle filter, even if it was more expensive.

It is also a pity that, under the new EU constitutional treaty, it is not possible to pass tax laws without unanimity, as this could have been a useful tool for pushing more efficient and environmentally friendly cars with EU-agreed tax breaks.

The car industry has never understood its responsibilities. It cannot just talk about selling cars and ignore the environmental consequences of the industry. We have to consider the EU's goal to reduce deaths by car accidents - this will cost money. Treating illnesses caused by emissions is tremendously expensive. All of these issues need to be addressed and it all boils down to the priority of reducing Europe's volume of traffic.

In all these discussions, we must also consider our transport systems. The main goal is not to work out how many cars can travel on our roads, but how many people can be transported on those roads. The EU needs to regulate to cut the number of cars on our roads.

One of the most important goals in this respect is the success of the EU project to invest in trans-European networks. The EU has shown it is willing to honour the Kyoto agreement on climate change and its ambitious goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8% by 2010, but this will only work with a different transport policy, away from cars and towards the railways. The 40 projects currently on the table are a summary of national egotism, such as Italy claiming its bridge to Sicily is in Europe's interest.

This summer, I took a train from Berlin to Tallin, the capital of Estonia. I had to change trains nine times and the journey took 60 hours. It's the same story if one travels from Vienna to Bratislava, or from Berlin to Krakow. We need to invest in railways for our environment.

  • German Green MEP Michael Cramer is a member of the European Parliament's committee on transport and tourism.

Rating systems, as well as state-of-the art technology, are key to improving vehicle safety, says Malcolm Harbour

THERE are new technologies combining information and communication that will vastly improve the safety of our vehicles.

On Monday (27 September) in Brussels there will be a high-level meeting of the eSafety forum, which was an initiative promoted by the European Commission and supported by former enterprise commissioner Erkki Liikanen.

It brings together major car industry stakeholders including safety organizations, motorway operators and the police as well as car manufacturers, and they have produced a road-map of the way in which these technologies will improve safety.

For example, there is a memorandum of understanding that all cars will eventually be equipped with an e-call system so that, in the event of an accident, the driver can press the call button and it will send the car's location to the emergency services.

The forum is also working on a standard protocol for vehicles with intelligent traffic systems. These would give you advanced warning about problem areas on a display in your car. Another area is that of collision protection systems.

We already have intelligent cruise control which uses a radar enabled system to control the car to run at a steady speed, but now we can link it to run a certain distance from the car in front. That means if I drive at 120 kilometres per hour (km/h) and someone pulls out in front of me at 100km/h, the car automatically slows down. It is brilliant technology and a very good safety system.

In Switzerland, a pilot scheme has been initiated in which cars are equipped with a global positioning satellite system which automatically displays the speed limit prevailing wherever you are. There is also an override system which means if you go over the limit the acceleration pedal hardens, making it more difficult to push and warning you that you are going too fast.

All these things will probably be too expensive for the EU to regulate on a mandatory basis, but there are legal aspects. For example, the forum is looking at standardizing these warning systems across Europe because at the moment there is no real norm.

There is also still a great deal of work to be done on the safety design of cars themselves and much of this could be regulated via rating systems.

The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro N-cap), which has been the test programme for rating cars on safety, has introduced a competitive element to the industry. A rating system means manufacturers have an incentive to improve safety because consumers want to buy cars with a five-star N-cap rating.

We want the consortium that initiated this rating system to look at introducing a pedestrian protection rating. We are about to enter into the new second phase proposals for legislation and there is still more room for developing car structures to increase passenger survivability, although I think we are getting to the limit of survivability in accidents involving speeds of over 50 or 60 km/h.

One of the other areas they could look at, which is also being examined by the Fédération Internationale d'Automobile, is rating active safety systems. The days of simple anti-lock braking are long gone - new generation cars have advanced braking systems and anti-skid technology. A rating would enable consumers to make an informed choice.

  • UK conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour is a member of the Parliament's committee on the internal market and consumer protection, and the committee on industry, research and energy.

Two MEPs are asked on the best route towards vehicle and environmental safety: answers by German Green MEP Michael Cramer, member of the European Parliament's Committee on Transport and Tourism and UK Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, member of the Parliament's Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

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