Bull bars will be banned from all new cars under EU pedestrian safety plans due to be approved in Brussels today.
The move is part of a voluntary agreement with car makers to redesign car fronts to reduce the risk to pedestrians in a collision.
But transport safety campaigners say the deal is much weaker than experts have recommended after 22 years of scientific tests funded by the EU and member states.
The European Transport Safety Council claims the Brussels Commission and EU governments are bowing to a powerful car industry lobby and trimming their demands for tougher car impact standards.
Four new crash tests for car fronts have been in the pipeline for years, designed to cut injuries caused to pedestrians by protruding bonnet edges and bumpers.
If all four tests were mandatory, says the ETSC, the current 9,300 pedestrian and cyclist deaths a year could be cut by 2,000, and the annual 200,000 injured in accidents involving cars, reduced by 18,000.
But the voluntary code being considered by ministers meeting in Brussels commits the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) only to a more limited range of modifications which, says the ETSC, will only cut pedestrian deaths by 500 a year.
An EC official said: ‘‘The Commission is satisfied with the industry’s commitment. But before deciding where this is sufficient or whether legislation might be needed, we would like to know the opinion of governments and MEPs.’’
The EU government ministers are expected to endorse the voluntary code, which UK trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt says can be brought in far faster than EU-wide legislation.
The compromise deal includes the introduction of ABS - the Advanced Braking System which helps prevent skidding under heavy braking - on all new cars by 2003, and car front design modifications by 2005, which would mean the end of the road for bull bars fitted at the factory.
However, the agreement does not include bull bars bought as an accessory, and the ETSC says the bull bar problem represents only a small proportion of all pedestrian injuries caused by car fronts of all types.
More comprehensive design changes would be phased in from 2010.
The ETSC is now turning its attention on MEPs, hoping to persuade them to block the new voluntary deal, and demand the original, legally-binding four-test package.