The European Union is preparing legislation to force manufacturers to design cars that will offer greater protection to those outside the car during an accident.
Crash test results, published yesterday, showed three out of six popular cars gave those on foot "poor protection". But four models won top marks for protecting the car driver and passengers.
Neil Kinnock, the EU Transport Commissioner, will propose an EU directive before the summer aimed at making cars more "pedestrian-friendly".
This will include a ban on "bull bars" on cars - reinforced grilles on the front of some four-wheel-drive models. Mr Kinnock's spokeswoman said the legislation would also consider the position of car door reinforcements and the need for additional passenger restraints. Mr Kinnock said he was concerned new car designs were more dangerous for those outside the car. "We continue to be concerned about the way in which new designs have extra rigidity which can inflict extra damage on pedestrians," he said. "The work we are doing is now increasingly oriented towards dealing with that."
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said legislation was needed to ensure cars were designed to cause as little injury to pedestrians. "We hope manufacturers will begin to address this matter urgently," said a spokesman.
Edmund King, RAC head of campaigns, said: "Manufacturers need to pay more attention to the protection of children in cars and pedestrians who may be hit by cars."
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said it would play a positive role on improving safety but the Government needed to invest more in infrastructure to keep cars and pedestrians apart.
A spokeswoman for Ford added: "We do need to listen to customers' demands but if we put a tank on the road people would not want to buy it."
The tests showed three of the six cars tested - the Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane and the Nissan Almera - scored only one star out of a maximum four for pedestrian safety. Two Ford models, the Escort and Focus, scored two stars. The report from the European New Car Assessment programme (EuroNCAP), said: "It was particularly disappointing to see the Nissan Almera and Vauxhall Astra gave such poor protection to pedestrians."
EuroNCAP's study of pedestrians protection found the Astra required "major improvement" because more than half of the places where a pedestrian's head might hit would lead to injury.
Protection on the Almera was "generally poor", the bumper lacking protective padding to diffuse an impact.
And on the Focus, the bumper gave little protection where a child's head was most likely to hit.
The tests showed significant improvement in protections for drivers and their passengers. Four cars - the Ford Focus, Mercedes A Class, Renault Megane and the Astra - scored a maximum four stars for front and side impact. But the Nissan Almera presented an unacceptably high risk of severe injury to the head or chest of occupants. The Escort scored two stars.
More than 1,000 lives are pointlessly destroyed every year by speeding drivers, the Government said yesterday, unveiling a pounds 3.5m campaign. The Road Safety minister, Lord Whitty, said: "Driving too fast kills 1,200 people a year, more than any other cause."
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