EU vehicle safety standards review

Key facts

• Vehicles can be designed with active and passive safety measures: active safety measures are designed to prevent collisions and passive safety measures aim to mitigate the consequences of collisions. Active and passive measures aim to protect vehicle occupants and/or other road users [1];
• The EU has the power to regulate minimum active and passive safety standards on vehicles through vehicle type approval regulations and requires vehicles to pass minimum standard crash tests [2];
• The EC is currently carrying out a review of its outdated regulations on vehicles' active and passive safety standards and this review is expected to result in raised standards by 2018 [3]; 
• EU regulation is behind the curve of vehicle safety developments. Vehicle manufacturers have developed a number of active and passive safety measures, fitted to some vehicle models, that exceed current mandatory standards and can enable these vehicles to pass more demanding crash tests by the voluntary assessment scheme Euro NCAP [4].

Introduction

Safer vehicles are crucial to a safer system with fewer casualties. Increasingly, vehicles are being fitted with ‘active’ safety measures that help prevent crashes occurring (such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB)) [5]. Active safety measures are at the cutting edge of safe vehicle design and the move towards vehicle automation. Read our fact pages on Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and driverless vehicles.

‘Passive’ safety measures on vehicles aim to mitigate the consequences of an impact as opposed to preventing the impact [6]. They are designed to help protect either vehicle occupants (for example seat belts, air bags, head restraints) or people on foot / bicycles and other vulnerable road users outside the vehicle (for example softer bumpers / windscreens). 

Safety standards (assessed through mandatory crash testing of new models) and specific active and passive measures required for type approval of vehicles sold in Europe (inclusive of the UK at present) are set down in the General Safety Regulation (EC 661/2009) [7]; and the Pedestrian Protection Regulation (EC 78/2009) [8], both currently under review in 2017.

Regulation currently lags well behind the curve of technological advances in safety by many vehicle manufacturers. The standards required for a new car model to pass mandatory crash tests are below the standard of crash tests conducted by Euro NCAP, the vehicle safety assessment programme used by consumers to inform their purchasing habits [9]. Most cars sold in the UK receive four or five star ratings from Euro NCAP. 

However, some cars don't receive four or five stars, and not all cars are fitted with all possible safety features. This is an equity issue: cheaper models often do not benefit from safety technology fitted to more expensive models. Improvements to regulation are needed. 

Current regulation in the GSR and PPR

The General Safety Regulation and its amendments mandates electronic stability control (ESC) on all vehicles. Trucks and buses are required to have autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and Lane Departure Warning systems. Passive safety measures required are driver seat belt reminders and ISOFIX child seat anchors. New car models are required to pass a mandatory off-set frontal impact test and a side impact test, both with occupant dummies in the front. There is no full-width frontal impact test. There is no pole test (simulating the side of a vehicle hitting a pole or tree). There is no rear impact test. 

The Pedestrian Protection Regulation aims to protect people on foot, cyclists and other vulnerable road users (VRUs) in collisions with cars through improvement to vehicle design. The regulation requires manufacturers to fit energy absorbing bonnets and front bumpers to help mitigate injury to vulnerable road users. New models are required to pass mandatory tests impacting a) a lower leg form hitting a bumper and b) adult and child head forms hitting the bonnet. New models are also required to undertake monitoring tests (but they don't have to pass these tests). The monitoring tests collide an upper leg form against the "bonnet leading edge" (the angle between the bumper and the bonnet) and an adult's head form against a windscreen (head impacts against windscreens are common, and a leading cause of death of VRUs). The PPR also stipulates the fitting of a "brake assist" technology to vehicles, which increases the power of braking. 

Review

There is an expectation that the review of these two regulations will result in regulatory requirements for new and improved active and passive safety measures on vehicles to protect occupants and people outside vehicles including elevating the requirements of crash tests [10]. This should save lives. As part of the review, the EC has produced two reports:

• A report on the 'benefits and feasibility' of introducing active and passive safety measures currently not included in the regulations [11]. This was published in 2015 and contains 55 possible measures; and
• A report listing 19 vehicle safety measures being considered now by the EC for inclusion in amended regulations [12].

The 19 vehicle safety measures listed for consideration are as follows: 

Active safety measures: 

1. Automatic Emergency Braking (already required on trucks and buses);
2. Intelligent Speed Adaptation (technology that can control a vehicle within speed limits or warn a driver to comply);
3. Lane Keep Assistance (corrects steering if a vehicle veers out of a lane);
4. Driver Drowsiness and Distraction Monitoring (technology that identifies and warns a driver if they are falling asleep / distracted).

Passive safety measures: 

5. Emergency Braking Display (flashing stop lights);
6. Seat belt reminders for passengers (these are already required for the driver);
7. Improvements to frontal crash testing for occupant safety; 
8. Improvements to side crash testing for occupant safety;
9. Introduction of rear crash testing (there is no required test at present);
10. Standardised interface for fitting alcohol interlock devices;
11. Crash event data recorders;
12. Tyre pressure monitoring.

Vulnerable road user safety:

13. Pedestrian and cyclist detection linked to AEB systems;
14. Head impact protection on A pillars and front windscreen (crash testing standards and requirements);
15. Reversing detection devices.

Heavy goods vehicle (truck) and bus design measures: 

16. Front-end design and direct vision;
17. Truck and trailer rear underrun protection (rear bumper);
18. Lateral protection (side guards);
19. Fire safety for buses.

Consideration of these measures is happening at present and the new regulations are expected to be implemented by 2018.

Go to our fact checks on Passive safety systems for vehicle occupancy and Passive safety systems on cars for vulnerable road users.


End notes

[1] Hynd, D. et al, Benefits and feasibility of a range of technologies and unregulated measures in the field of vehicle occupant safety and protection of vulnerable road users: final report, European Commission, 2015
[2] Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: Article 114, European Commission, 2008
[3] Hynd, D. et al, Benefits and feasibility of a range of technologies and unregulated measures in the field of vehicle occupant safety and protection of vulnerable road users: final report, European Commission, 2015
[4] About Euro NCAP, Euro NCAP
[5] Saving lives with safer cars, European Commission, 2016
[6] Hynd, D. et al, Benefits and feasibility of a range of technologies and unregulated measures in the field of vehicle occupant safety and protection of vulnerable road users: final report, European Commission, 2015
[7] Regulation (EC) 661/2009 of the European Parliament and Council concerning the type-approval requirements for the general safety of motor vehicles, their trailers and systems, components and separate technical units, European Commission, 2009
[8] Regulation (EC) No 78/2009 of the European Parliament and Council on the type-approval of motor vehicles with regard to the protection of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, amending Directive 2007/46/EC, European Commission, 2009 
[9] EuroNCAP, Official site of the European New Car Assessment Programme
[10] Saving Lives: Boosting car safety in the EU, European Commission, 2016
[11] Hynd, D. et al, Benefits and feasibility of a range of technologies and unregulated measures in the field of vehicle occupant safety and protection of vulnerable road users: final report, European Commission, 2015
[12] Saving Lives: Boosting car safety in the EU, European Commission, 2016

Date posted: March 2017