With the new general safety regulation, the European Parliament, Council and Commission hope to achieve zero fatalities and serious injuries on the road by 2050. MARISKA MORRIS takes a closer look at the changes and the potential impact.
In March, the European Parliament, Council and Commission agreed on the revised General Safety Regulation, which includes 15 new safety technologies that will be mandatory in all vehicles in the European Union (EU). The Commission expects these technologies to save more than 25 000 lives and prevent at least 140 000 serious injuries by 2038.
The long-term goal is to have zero fatalities and serious injuries on roads in the EU by 2050. While annual road fatalities in the EU have decreased by 54 percent since 2001, there are still around 500 deaths on EU roads every week, notes Deirdre Clune, Ireland South MEP, in an article for news organisation Irish Examiner.
Technologies to save lives
The 15 safety technologies agreed upon by the Commission will be mandatory in all the new vehicles on EU roads from May 2022. These include warnings of driver drowsiness and distraction (including using a smartphone while driving), intelligent speed assistance (ISA), reverse cameras or sensors and a data recorder or “black box” that can be inspected to learn the cause of an accident.
The ISA technology uses sign recognition, through a video camera and GPS-linked speed-limit data, to advise drivers of the current speed limit.
“This will actively assist drivers instead of just informing them of a problem. The technology does not apply brakes but inhibits engine power, ensuring drivers do not exceed the limit,” says Clune.
“The system can be disengaged or overridden when necessary – for example when a vehicle needs to overtake, though under the new rules it must be operational upon starting a vehicle,” he adds.
“An impact assessment carried out during the drafting of the new legislation has indicated that universal adoption of the technology across the EU could reduce annual road fatalities by around 20 percent,” Clune notes.
In addition, cars and vans will be required to have lane-keeping assistance, advanced emergency braking, an enlarged head-impact zone and crash-test improved safety belts. Trucks and buses will also have systems at the front and side of the vehicles to detect and warn the driver of vulnerable road users – especially when turning.
All blind spots will need to be removed in commercial vehicles to provide better vision for the driver. These design changes will come into effect at a later stage.
Impact on the cost of vehicles
While these mandatory technologies will assist road users to comply with road rules and minimise the human error in driving, some have expressed concerns about whether they will make vehicles more expensive.
“I know there have been concerns raised by the Automobile Association (AA) and the Society of the Irish Motor Industry about the measures leading to a significant rise in the cost of a new vehicle, but I disagree,” Clune notes.
“The impact assessment that was developed for this legislation, in consultation with stakeholders such as manufacturers, concluded that there should be no substantial vehicle retail price increases due to the proposed safety measures expected in the medium and long term. It has been suggested that insurance premiums may in fact drop as a result of the new measures.
“These technologies are already commercially available, but are usually optional and, as a result, are expensive,” he explains. Clune adds that incorporating the technologies into the vehicles, would be less expensive.
Transitioning to autonomy
The European Commission notes that, in addition to improving safety, the new regulation will offer new mobility solutions for the elderly and people with disabilities. It will also help with the transition to self-driving vehicles by assisting drivers to adapt to the technologies that will inform autonomous driving.
It may also improve the public’s confidence in self-driving vehicles after a number of accidents involving autonomous cars. In 2018, Apple software engineer Wei Huang died when his Tesla Model X crashed while in autonomous mode. The vehicle manufacturer said that the cruise control was set to the minimum follow-distance and that the driver received ample warning to override the function before the collision.
Dan Howarth, in an article for news organisation De Zeen, quotes Tesla: “The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive, and his hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. The driver had about five seconds and
150 m of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”
With new mandatory technologies to assist and warn drivers of their behaviour, similar accidents might be avoided as drivers engage better with the warning systems. This is especially important as the EU looks towards automated transport for its future.
John Koetsier, in an article for Forbes, quotes EU commissioner Violeta Bulc: “By 2030 we believe we will have the new generation of vehicles that will be fully automated. This year, auto manufacturers added 15 new safety and automation features to all cars of all price levels.” Autonomous vehicles are believed to help the EU reach its Zero Vision.
The agreement reached by the European Parliament, Council and Commission will now be subject to formal approval by the European Parliament and Council.