EU mulls compulsory safety-technology for cars

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As most member states fail to make any significant progress on reducing the number of road deaths and as Europe's congestion and pollution problems worsen, the Commission says that more should be done to exploit the potential benefits offered by integrating information and communication technologies into all vehicles.

Certain safety options, such as automatic emergency call technology (eCall), electronic stability control (ESC) equipment and crash-avoidance systems, could become compulsory in all road vehicles, according to a second 'Intelligent Car' Communication, presented by the Commission at the Intelligent Car Yearly Event 2007 in Versailles, France on 18 September. 

The Commission says that eCall could save up to 2,500 lives every year but that too few EU states have yet committed to facilitating the introduction of the technology (12 out of 27 to date). 

The idea behind eCall is that, in the event of a serious accident, cars equipped will automatically call the nearest emergency centre using the single European emergency 112, giving basic information about the crash, including the exact location of the accident scene, even when no passenger is able to communicate. 

The Commission has announced that it will start negotiations with European, Japanese and Korean carmakers on the voluntary inclusion of the eCall device as a standard option in all new vehicles starting from 2010. But it stresses that if progress is too slow, "new regulatory actions on the implementation of eCall may be envisaged in 2008". 

The Commission adds that it will consult stakeholders later this year on the possibility of making electronic stability control equipment, as well as braking assistance and crash-avoidance systems, mandatory in all vehicles as of 2011. 

According to the Commission, by reducing the danger of skidding – the principle cause of at least 40% of fatal road accidents – ESC could save 4,000 lives and prevent 100,000 serious accidents every year. 

"Availability of ESC in new cars is still low, 40% in EU-25 in 2005, and varies greatly from market to market due to the differing commercial strategies amongst manufacturers and varied support from authorities (85 % in Sweden, 31% in Italy). In Europe the target is to achieve 100% availability of ESC as well for the model year 2012," explains the Commission. 

It further adds that it will produce guidelines, by mid-2008, on the possibilities for member states to introduce incentives, including tax schemes, for accelerating the take-up of intelligent vehicle systems, aimed at making vehicles safer, greener and smarter. 

Positions: 

"Technology can save lives, improve road transport and protect the environment. The EU must…continue to put pressure on stakeholders to ensure Europeans benefit from these winning technologies sooner rather than later," said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, adding: "If fast progress cannot be made voluntarily, I stand ready to intervene." 

ERTICO–ITS Europe, which represents more than 100 key stakeholders in the development and deployment of intelligent transport systems and services - including car manufacturers, electronics suppliers, map makers, telecom operators, highway operators and European public authorities - stresses the importance of combining vehicle and infrastructure technology with information and communication technology in order to achieve Europe’s safety and climate change targets. 

"Studies show that at least 93% of accidents are caused by human error, so the case for increased driver assistance is clear…By decreasing the driver's workload, detecting dangers and providing the necessary support in hazardous situations, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) could save a considerable number of lives every year… These applications are designed to protect not only vehicle occupants, but also other potentially vulnerable traffic participants, such as pedestrians and cyclists. So the potential is enormous," ERTICO–ITS Europe Director for Development & Deployment Michael Nielsen told EurActiv in an interview

He stressed the need to raise awareness among car drivers and to create a mass market for the technologies, notably through incentives, with a view to bringing prices down. 

"Today the EC and member states have mostly used the voluntary principle for the take-up. But member states could be more important players, for example, by providing incentives for end users to buy these systems. Also insurance companies could play a role here to ensure a faster uptake," he said.

European carmaker association ACEA believes that the lack of awareness of the benefits of safety technologies is the main obstacle for a wider implementation rate in Europe. ACEA Secretary General Ivan Hodac explained: "European manufacturers increasingly equip their vehicles with safety features, both standard or as an option. Unfortunately, the take-up rate is still disappointing. In many cases, customers prefer comfort or entertainment features instead."

Jörg Beckmann, executive director for the European Transport Safety Council, a road safety NGO, stressed: "We observe that existing technologies and policies with the largest life-saving potential are not always given the top priority by policymakers. In order to maximise the safety benefits gained from new vehicle technology, the focus needs to be both on innovation and implementation. Seat belt reminders, alcohol interlocks and intelligent speed assistance (ISA) offer the greatest safety potential. But these technologies need efforts from policymakers to ensure their rapid application… Member states and the European Commission should take their responsibilities."

Timeline: 
  • 17 Sept. 2007: Commission presents second Communication on its 'Intelligent Car' initiative.
  • 18 Sept. 2007: Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain sign up to eCall.
  • Mid-2008: Commission to present guidelines on incentives for intelligent transport systems take-up.
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