A project to redesign cars in a way that would make them less of a threat to pedestrians, helping to reduce the 700 deaths and 20,000 injuries across Europe each year, is being blocked by car manufacturers.
Researchers at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire have been working on the scheme since the mid-Eighties. They have calculated that modifying the design to ensure that the fronts of all cars crumple on impact with pedestrians would be worth seven times more in terms of lives and injuries saved than the actual cost of implementing the changes. Under Department of Transport calculations, a life saved is worth just under pounds 1m.
The design of the cars would have to be changed in order to give more room under the bonnet so that the outside shell could "give" when a pedestrian was hit. With current designs, the location of the engine often prevents the bonnet from crumpling.
The Government has been at the forefront of pushing for this new legislation at European level and and has paid for most of the research and the cost of developing tests to assess different car types. But other countries with major car industries have been reluctant to support it because of the alleged cost to manufacturers.
The research suggests that it would be easy to make the necessary changes at all mass production levels, but some top of the range cars - such as Rolls Royces and Jaguars - might have to be given exemptions. One additional advantage to the scheme would be that the special bumpers added to many cars would make them more resistant to minor knocks in car parks and other confined spaces.
The TRL has calculated that the cost of modification would be around pounds 11 per car, but the manufacturers, represented at the EC by the ACEA - the Association des Constructeurs Europe ens de L'Automobile - argue that the cost would be many times greater and would outweigh the benefits from casualties saved.
A source at the Department of Transport claimed that the manufacturers' calculations are based on very pessimistic views of the value of the measures, faulty population projections and a gross overestimate of costs.
There appeared to be a breakthrough earlier this year when the European Commission finally drew up a draft directive for consideration by member states. Graham Lawrence, the TRL researcher who has been working on the project since its inception, said: "We were delighted that at last the commission had taken this important step."
However, at a meeting of a technical committee at the European Commission in Brussels earlier this month, pressure from the manufacturers forced the commission to call for a new cost-benefit analysis - despite the fact that TRL had already carried one out.
Now, according to a European Commission source, "nothing is likely to happen for years and hundreds of lives will be lost".
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