New UK vehicles are in need of some serious safety upgrades, according to a coalition of transport organisations. The team of motoring organisations includes fleet representative body ACFO, Brake, the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation and the European Transport Safety Council. The group wants Britain to wholly adopt the European Commission’s recent plan to increase safety standards on all new vehicles, it has said in a joint letter to Roads Minister Jesse Norman MP.

Published last year, theEuropean Commission (EC) plan highlighted 19 safety technologies that it is considering making mandatory on all cars. While Britain is all set to leave the EU, the coalition believes that we must support any resulting measures produced by the EC to ensure that the UK’s safety standards continue to improve, rather than fall behind those of our European counterparts following Brexit.

Tech to the rescue?

The technology being examined by the EC covers a range of active and passive features that are currently available on some models of cars – but critically, not all. Active safety measures are seen as essential for ensuring accidents don’t happen in the first place. They include automatic emergency braking, lane keep assistance, driver drowsiness/distraction monitoring and intelligent speed adaptation. The latter is an overridable system that helps drivers keep to speed limits.

The passive safety measures being considered for introduction or enhancement include tyre pressure monitoring, crash event data recorders, emergency braking displays (think flashing brake lights), improved crash testing (plus the introduction of rear impact testing) and ‘alcohol interlock device interface standardisation’ – in other words, the compulsory fitting of breathalysers in all cars.

Pedestrian protection

To protect pedestrians and cyclists, the EC is also exploring the potential of enhanced detection systems to improve collision outcomes, with head impact protection on A-pillars and windscreens, along with pedestrian detection when reversing.

Trucks and buses are also coming under the EC’s spotlight, with the focus again on keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe. Proposed measures include the introduction or improvement of rear underpin protection, side guards, improved front end designs and better direct vision for lorry drivers, so they can see more from their windows.

Pan-European vehicle standards were last upgraded in 2009. Now, the coalition insists that the UK must keep pace, raising the bar and implementing “further cost effective life-saving safety measures as standard.” With over 1,700 people killed in road collisions in 2015, the coalition believes it is “crucial to ensure the effective delivery of the ‘safe system’ approach adopted by Britain, driving towards the ultimate target of zero road deaths and serious injuries.”

Are you the weakest link?

While improved safety features are seen as vital, there are concerns about the impact they have on drivers. The fear is that motorists are becoming over-reliant on technology to do the driving for them. For instance, Canadian police have speculated that systems like lane departure warnings are leading to some motorists believing that they don’t need to check over their shoulders anymore.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: some motorists are simply too confused by the new technology to engage with it. Instead, they are turning off safety features wherever possible. The National Safety Council in the US believes that “if people don’t understand how that works or what the car is doing, it may startle them or make them uncomfortable.”

Ultimately, any safety technology can only be good news when it comes to reducing road collisions. However, perhaps the real takeaway here is that all the tech in the world can’t change the fact that a vehicle’s weakest link is the driver. Well, that is until autonomous cars take over…

Are advances in car safety technology the answer to reducing road accident rates? Or are we becoming too reliant on our cars taking care of us? Let us know your thoughts below.

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