Too few road users across Europe are seeing the benefits of new vehicle safety innovations, according to a new report by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).
The report concludes that an over-reliance on a voluntary testing programme rather than regulatory standards has hampered the spread of safety benefits.
It claims that Europe’s car safety framework is in need of an ‘overhaul’, suggesting that current minimum standards ‘urgently need updating’.
The report says that for almost 20 years, increases in levels of car safety in Europe have been driven mainly by the voluntary Euro NCAP programme which awards the safest cars with a 5-star rating.
However, according to new data, only around half of new vehicles sold in 2013 were awarded 5 stars by Euro NCAP during the 2010-13 testing cycle.
According to ETSC, the main block to faster progress is that legally-mandated safety standards are years out of date. Its report says a car that only meets the current minimum safety standards in the EU would receive a zero-star rating today from Euro NCAP.
Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC, said: “While Europe is still a leader in vehicle safety, this report shows that the benefits are far from being equally spread.
“We need an overhaul of vehicle safety in the EU to ensure that the latest advances benefit the many not the few. The starting point must be bringing today’s regulatory tests and required standard equipment bang up to date.
“In the past, it has taken 20 years for technologies such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to be made mandatory.
“This should not be allowed to happen again with the new generation of lifesaving technology such as Automated Emergency Braking, Intelligent Speed Assistance and passenger Seat Belt Reminders.”
The report also claims that pedestrian protection is the lowest priority of carmakers. It says that car occupants have benefitted more than other road users from safety improvements, as cars have generally performed worse on pedestrian protection criteria than on adult or child occupant protection.
The report also found that green vehicle tax shifts in countries including Denmark and the Netherlands have failed to take account of safety, leading to higher sales of cars with lower safety ratings. ETSC advises countries to offer tax incentives only to ‘clean and safe’ vehicles.
ETSC also says more work needs to be done to compare real world collision outcomes to laboratory crash test results. While the report found that several studies have found a correlation, on average, between higher Euro NCAP ratings, and a reduced chance of death or serious injury, the relationship is not true in all cases.
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, said: “This important report shows how the voluntary safety rating system (EuroNCAP) has helped raise vehicle safety standards across Europe. The UK helped to establish this system and can be proud of what has been achieved.
“Now we need to go further and make cars much safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists as well as vehicle occupants. We also need to back the voluntary arrangements with higher regulatory safety standards across the EU.
“The UK Government is seeking to raise consumer awareness of the EuroNCAP system and is exploring ways to increase consumer uptake of safer vehicles. One way would be to apply the company car tax concessions, announced in the Budget last week, only to vehicles with a five-star safety rating.”