New technologies will help make Europe’s roads safer

Automated braking and reducing blind spots in trucks are just some of the new measures set to come into law, writes Deirdre Clune, Ireland South MEP

New technologies will help make Europe’s roads safer

Automated braking and reducing blind spots in trucks are just some of the new measures set to come into law, writes Deirdre Clune, Ireland South MEP.

Recent years have seen significant improvements in road safety — and since 2001, the number of annual fatalities has been reduced by 54% across Europe.

However, there are still 500 deaths on European roads each and every week. That is more than 25,000 fatalities a year and is simply not an acceptable figure. There is progress being made. In Ireland there were 400 deaths on our roads in 2001 compared to 149 last year.

That is 149 too many, however I remain convinced that we can go much further on improving road safety and I am optimistic about the potential for new life-saving technologies to help us do that. It is a fact that human error is the deciding factor in the majority of these accidents. We can and must act to change this. By making advanced safety features mandatory in new vehicles, we can seek to have the same kind of impact as when seatbelts were introduced.

As the only Irish MEP on the transport and tourism committee at the European Parliament, I have been working on these issues for the last several years. Road safety is a priority for the committee; this year alone we have backed an ambitious co-ordinated approach to new EU rules covering road infrastructure safety and also strongly endorsed new vehicle safety standards.

Last week in Strasbourg, the European Parliament and European Council at last provisionally agreed 30 mandatory features that will be fitted to improve road safety. The legislation means new cars, vans, lorries, and buses sold in the EU will be fitted as standard with a range of new vehicle safety features. All going to plan, this will start in May 2022.

The EU expects the proposals will save lives and prevent at least 140,000 injuries by 2038. The long-term goal, under the EU’s ‘Vision Zero’ plan, is to approach zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2050.

New technologies that will become mandatory include automated emergency braking systems (AEBS), which can detect pedestrians and cyclists close to a vehicle. Also included is overridable intelligent speed assistance (ISA) which will be fitted as standard for the first time.

This will actively assist the driver instead of just informing them of a problem. Using a combination of cameras and GPS, which detects the speed limit on a road, the technology inhibits engine power, ensuring drivers do not exceed the limit.

The system can be disengaged, though under the new rules it must be operational upon starting a vehicle. ISA can also be temporarily overridden by pressing the accelerator hard to the floor, when overtaking, for example. 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%.

I was especially pleased to see another new life-saving measure included that will drastically reduce deadly blindspots in trucks. New trucks and buses will be required to have improved levels of “direct vision” to give drivers a greater chance of seeing vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists from 2025. This was something I amended and lobbied hard to be included in the new legislation over several years and I am delighted to see that it was included following negotiations with the council. It will be the world’s first ‘direct vision’ standard.

Trucks form about 2% of vehicles on the road but are involved in 15% of fatalities.

Some 4,000 people die every year in truck collisions in Europe, 1,000 of whom are cyclists and pedestrians.

Another important aspect of the legislation is how to address drink driving. The legislation will make it easier to retrofit an alcohol interlock device in vehicles, a technological solution already in use in several EU countries to tackle repeat drink driving.

An electronic data recorder, a type of ‘black box’ for vehicles, is also included in the measures so we can examine vital data on the car’s status in the moments immediately before a collision.

I know there have been concerns raised by the AA and Society of the Irish Motor Industry about the measures leading to a significant rise in the cost of a new car but I disagree with this. The impact assessment which was developed for this legislation, in consultation with stakeholders such as manufacturers, concluded that there are no substantial vehicle retail price increases due to the proposed safety measures in the medium and long term expected.

Indeed, it has been suggested that insurance premiums may in fact drop as a result of the new measures. I don’t believe the new measures will prove to be prohibitively expensive. These technologies are already commercially available, but are usually optional and, as a result, are therefore expensive. I believe that mandating

improved safety for all new vehicles at the stage of production will increase sales volumes and greatly reduce costs, making safer vehicles accessible to all.

At one point, the same argument was made about seatbelts and adding warning systems and signals to a car, but we know they do save lives and have since become standard in all car models.

The negotiated deal is provisional and still subject to approval by formal votes in the European Parliament. However, due to the European elections in May, this process could still take several more months but the hope is it will happen as soon as possible, probably in September this year.

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