Car safety within the EU

The European Union makes continuous efforts to ensure that Europe is and remains a safe place for all of its citizens. Part of this ambition is to reduce the exposure of citizens to any risks posed by traffic. Over the past decade, significant progress has been achieved in this regard as the number of road fatalities in Europe decreased by about 40 per cent between 1999 and 2009.

The EU introduced new car safety requirements on November 1 this year
- David Casa

Despite these positive results, however, traffic accidents continue to occur on European roads. The European Commission therefore decided to step up its efforts and proposed a new target to achieve a further 50 per cent decrease in road fatalities in the period between 2010 and 2020.

In order to achieve this ambitious target for 2020, the EU introduced new car safety requirements on November 1 this year. By 2014, these new requirements will become compulsory for all new motor vehicles on the European market and it is hoped that this initiative will lead to a further increase in road safety within the 27 member states.

So how will these new car safety requirements shape the future driving experience of passengers across Europe?

First of all, future cars will make it more difficult for their drivers to drive without fastening their seat belt. This means that every vehicle will be equipped with a safety belt reminder that can monitor the use of seat belts and trigger off persistent audio or visual warnings to remind the driver to fasten the safety belt.

The importance of using seat belts should indeed not be underestimated. Statistics indicate that almost half of all road traffic deaths in the EU involve drink-driving, a breach of speed limits or failure to wear a safety belt. Using seat belts as a preventative measure has equally been said to decrease the risk of dying in a car accident by more than 50 per cent.

In addition to stricter seat belt requirements, the EU further aims to protect passengers by forcing car manufacturers to reinforce their design of rear passenger seats. These seats are usually located in front of the luggage compartment. In case of an accident, objects can sometimes fly out of the boot into the passenger area, where they can cause serious injury. In the future, car manufacturers will therefore be obliged to design stronger rear seats that better protect passengers from any displaced objects.

Young passengers, in particular, are also to benefit from the new safety requirements that came into effect. First of all, vehicles are now required to have at least two child seat anchorage points that comply with Isofix standards to provide better protection for the child and to make it easier to install the child seat in the car. This standardised system might also make it easier for consumers to buy a child seat as they no longer have to ensure that the particular seat is compatible with their vehicle.

As an additional safety measure, passengers will now also be warned of the risks that airbags pose for children. Although airbags are designed to reduce injuries and protect passengers by providing a cushion between them and the car, they can have an adverse effect on children because of their size and force. With the new safety requirements, car manufacturers must display labels that warn against the placement of certain child restraint systems on a seat protected by airbags.

Finally, new vehicles that enter the European market are obliged to include a tyre pressure monitoring system in their designs. This means that drivers will be alerted to any possible loss of tyre pressure instead of having to detect it themselves. This is an important feature as it allows car drivers to prevent serious accidents that can result from a loss of pressure or tyre blowouts.

In addition, studies have shown that drivers can improve their fuel efficiency by up to 8.3 per cent through better pressure monitoring. This is beneficial on multiple levels because higher fuel efficiency saves costs for consumers and, likewise, reduces the CO2 emissions caused by the vehicle they drive.

Hopefully, these measures will bring the EU closer to its goal to increase road safety and reducing the number of accidents and fatalities. For countries like Malta, this is of particular relevance because the absence of rail networks naturally directs more traffic to our roads. It is therefore vital to ensure that these roads turn into a safer place for citizens in the years to come.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.


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