Press release
11 July 2001



This Communication seeks the views of the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on a proposal by the European car industry for a voluntary or negotiated agreement on harmonised standards for safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists. Before coming to a final decision in December 2001 on whether to accept the agreement or to propose legislation, the Commission seeks views on the content of the agreement as well as their assessment of it.

Each year, around 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists die on EU roads - most are hit by the fronts of cars in urban and residential areas and the majority are children and elderly road users.

Devising four interdependent car crash performance tests leading to better protection for vulnerable road users has been the focus of a 22-year EU and nationally funded research and development programme, involving national transport laboratories, government departments and industry, brought together by the European Enhanced Vehicle-safety Committee (EEVC).

These four EEVC tests form an integrated package for implementation as a whole. Each test simulates impacts to the parts of the body which most frequently sustain severe injuries in car to pedestrian impacts - the head (both adult and child), the pelvis and upper leg and the lower leg. It is estimated on the basis of studies carried out within the EU programme that around 2,000 pedestrian and cyclist deaths and 18,000 serious injuries (20 per cent of the EU total) could be prevented annually if all cars on EU roads met these tests. The UK Government's road safety strategy (March 2000) notes that a legislative proposal incorporating these four tests could reduce serious and fatal pedestrian injuries nationally by 20 per cent.

The EEVC tests have been ready since the early 1990s and have been used since 1996 by the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) which provides objective information on the basis of crash tests to consumers and which receives substantial funding from the European Commission and Member States. The EEVC test results show that, with the exception of the Honda Civic which meets over 70 per cent of the EuroNCAP tests, the European car industry has not acted voluntarily to provide safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists despite the available information on the injury problems and test methods.

Legislation has been long promised by the European Commission. A draft legislative proposal was discussed as long ago as 1992. In 1997, the current EU Vice President Kinnock promised a legislative proposal the following year. Vice President de Palacio promised legislation early in 2000 and the Commission as a whole endorsed the need for legislation in April 2000 in their road safety Communication. In November 2000 a legislative draft incorporating the four EEVC tests went to inter-service consultation proposing a lead-time ending in 2008 for new designs. The European Council of Ministers endorsed the need for legislation in June 2000 and in January 2001, in line with previous opinions, the European Parliament specified the legislative take up of the four EEVC tests as a road safety priority.

Summary of the main requirements in the voluntary agreements

Notwithstanding this long history of research, development and discussion by the EU institutions, the EC Enterprise Commissioner has, over the last 18 months, been exploring an alternative approach to legislative harmonisation and has negotiated a draft voluntary agreement with the European car industry which fails to implement, with certainty, the four EEVC tests.

The agreement comprises two test phases aimed at introducing pedestrian crash protection and also includes additional measures aimed at prohibiting rigid bull bars and accident avoidance. The Phase 1 tests were proposed by the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) which had hitherto no background or expertise in the pedestrian protection research and which were criticised heavily by scientists at the Commission's hearing in February 2001.

Phase 1

First phase tests (Joint Research Centre (JRC) 2 tests - lower leg and combined child and adult head) to be met by:

  • 1st July 2005 by all new types
  • 1st July 2010 by 80% of all new vehicles, 90% by 2011 and 100% by 2012

Phase 2

First phase tests (Joint Research Centre (JRC) 2 tests - lower leg and combined child and adult head) to be met by:

  • 1st July 2005 by all new types
  • 1st July 2010 by 80% of all new vehicles, 90% by 2011 and 100% by 2012

Further measures

  • Rigid bull bars will not be installed in new vehicles from 2002
  • Daytime running lights on all new vehicles from 2002
  • Anti-lock braking systems in all new vehicles from 2003

ETSC view of the content of draft voluntary agreement

Overall The voluntary agreement does not offer an equivalent level of protection compared with take up of the four tests agreed in the 22-year EU programme. The agreement fails to deliver the high level of protection expected of the harmonisation process on a very important matter of public safety for the following reasons:

  • Phase 1 The two tests in Phase 1 - lower leg and head form - offer a reduction in the overall level of protection offered by the legislative tests by at least 50 per cent. That means 1000 fewer lives saved and 9000 fewer serious injuries prevented. The number of tests to be passed would be reduced and key requirements would be weakened which could lead to worse upper leg injuries and more disabling knee injuries than at present.
  • Fewer tests In Phase 1, the number of tests to be passed would be reduced from the four legislative tests proposed by EEVC (lower leg, upper leg, adult head, child head) to two tests (lower leg and one head test). The upper leg test of the bonnet leading edge is omitted and the child and adult head tests are combined into one test.

    Experts believe that removal of the upper leg test would result in failure to protect pedestrian upper leg and pelvic injuries which can be disabling and costly. Secondly, if the upper leg test is left out, bonnet leading edges could become more aggressive as they can be used to help support the upper part of the lower leg so making it easier to pass the lower leg test. Consequently, injuries from the bonnet leading edge could increase from current levels.

    Furthermore, the combination of the child and adult head tests into one "average" mass head test would significantly reduce the effectiveness of the tests as it would understate the risks posed to both child and adult heads. The combined headform does not represent current biomechanical knoweldge for either children or adults.

    Weaker tests In addition to a reduced number of tests, the severity of the Phase 1 tests is weaker than the EEVC tests. The level of protection for adult and child head injuries and leg injuries would be halved which is an unacceptably low level of protection. The reduced requirements for the lower leg and the absence of the upper leg lest may also produce a very undesirable effect. While the number of lower leg fractures should go down, knee injuries are expected to increase with repairable fractures to the lower legs being replaced by costly knee injuries with long term disability.

  • Phase 2 does not introduce the four properly researched EEVC tests with any certainty. A serious loophole exists which means that the industry may never implement EEVC and discussion could continue on alternative requirements for many years. No equivalent measure is ready now and any future measure would need to be researched and validated. Industry has long argued for lead times which give due time for research and development towards clear targets. This uncertain second stage prevents this and will prolong this costly debate for many more years.
  • Bull bars This action to prohibit the fitment of rigid bull bars to new vehicles addresses a minor injury problem. What objective tests will be carried out to allow industry to decide which types of bull bar to allow which are safe?
  • Anti-lock braking Studies show that performance aids which allow drivers to corner more quickly or brake at a later stage, may not necessarily lead to safer driving. Indeed, some studies show that any benefit may be undercut by higher speeds. There are as many studies on anti-lock braking (ABS) in cars showing no safety effect as a positive safety effect. ABS remains 'case not proven' and cannot be relied upon at this stage to deliver casualty reductions.
  • Daytime running lightsWhat type of daytime running light is envisaged? Unless these are also fitted to motorcycles, to prevent masking of the more vulnerable motor vehicle, they may create an additional hazard for these users. There are likely to be good benefits for car occupants, but the large benefits for pedestrians which have been cited by the European Car Industry Association (ACEA) are questionable.

ETSC view of voluntary agreement V. directive

ETSC strongly disagrees with the industry's opinion that the voluntary agreement will deliver more safety to pedestrians and cyclists more quickly.

The thinness of the industry argument, in practice, is illustrated by the current Honda Civic. Without recourse to rocket science, this model offers over a 70 per cent EEVC level of protection on the road now whereas the voluntary agreement, in effect, proposes a 50 per cent level of EEVC (Phase 1) to be met fully by 2012!

The original Commission proposal for legislation which went to inter-service Commission consultation last November set out lead times for new designs of 2006 for a first phase and then 2008 for the take up of EEVC in a second phase. This compares with the voluntary agreement's proposal of 2005-2012 (Phase 1) and 2010 (Phase 2, although, as has been pointed out, implementing EEVC - the only scientifically validated tests - may never happen in view of the loophole in the agreement. In view of the Honda initiative, even a 7-year lead-time between now and 2008 seems overly long for new designs.

The voluntary agreement lead times proposed by industry in the Communication have also slipped even further since the recent inter-service consultation on this agreement and have become progressively longer for both phases of the agreement, such that the current suggestions lack credibility.

The combination of legislative lead times requiring the four EEVC tests to be met at the latest by 2008 for new types (as stated in the inter-service consultation on a Directive) and the EuroNCAP consumer information programme to encourage earlier take-up, would bring larger benefits over time. This would guarantee public safety and encourage market forces without creating the additional injury hazards which are inherent in the voluntary agreement proposal.

Recent EU experience with the front and side impact legislation showed that, within twelve months of good legislative requirements being assured, one car manufacturer after the other presented cars onto the market and EuroNCAP tests demonstrated that they more than met the legislative requirements, despite earlier statements by industry that this was impossible.

ETSC's conclusions

      1. The content of this voluntary agreement fails to deliver, with certainty, a high level of protection for pedestrians and cyclists
      2. Policymakers now need to take the lead to ensure that 2,000 lives can be saved and 18,000 serious injuries can be prevented annually.
      3. Only a Directive can deliver the four EEVC tests. With earlier lead times encouraged through the EuroNCAP programme. Industry has not agreed to this voluntarily and is unlikely to do so, despite small additional manufacturing costs estimated at around 30 euro per car.
      4. Removing this important matter of public safety away from the co-decision process and the close public scrutiny which that entails- with no opportunity for Member States or the European Parliament to influence the detail - would be a retrogressive step at a time when EU policymaking is aiming for more safety and more transparency.

Contact details: Jeanne Breen, Executive Director + 32 (0) 2 230 4106/4004