Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from the Transport Safety Research Centre, Loughborough University

1. This submission is made on behalf of the Transport Safety Research Centre at Loughborough University. The Centre has conducted research into the causes of crashes and the mitigation of injuries since 1982 when it was established and has focussed on the role of the performance and development of vehicle safety systems. A large part of its research has involved investigations of real world crashes to identify the principal causation factors, the effectiveness of safety systems and the roles of driver and road user behaviours. This research has mostly been conducted on behalf of industry, UK Government and the European Commission.

2. The submission addresses the question of the relationship between the Governments strategy and EU road safety initiatives, in particular addressing the important contribution that can be made by improved vehicle safety.

Summary

3. The improvement of vehicle safety by preventing collisions and mitigating injuries has been shown to be the single most effective measure of previous road safety policies and is an area where the UK has led international developments. The recently published Strategic Framework for Road Safety misses the opportunity to maximise further casualty savings from future developments in vehicle technologies. Vehicle safety standards are internationally determined and the UK has led many of the past developments and vehicle safety is one of the main priorities at EU level. Despite the previous UK leadership position the framework now includes few clear proposals to improve vehicle safety. This submission urges the Committee to recommend that the Secretary of State for Transport develops a full action plan for future vehicle safety policy, integrated within the wider casualty reduction framework.

The Relationship between the Government’s Strategy and EU Road Safety Initiatives

4. Car occupants form around half of all casualties so crash protection can make a substantial contribution to casualty reduction. Previous studies, such as The Numerical Context For Setting National Casualty Reduction Targets 2000 (J Broughton (TRL), R E Allsop (UCL), D A Lynam (TRL) and C M McMahon (DETR)) have shown that vehicle safety improvements have been the largest single contributor to the reductions in car occupant casualties having accounted for 14.7% of casualty reduction compared with 10.6% from drink/drive programmes and 6.5% from road safety engineering measures. Over the past 15 years the crash protection of cars has improved enormously in response to regulations on front and side impact, pedestrian safety and the introduction of the EuroNCAP consumer information tests. The UK has been successful in leading many of these improvements in vehicle safety by building the evidence base, developing new performance standards and by leading international initiatives to ensure new vehicles have continually higher levels of safety. The Road Safety Framework identifies several key themes including education, enforcement measures, cost benefit evidence and decentralisation however engineering measures, including vehicle safety, are completely absent. It does state that one role of Government is to provide leadership so it is disappointing that, despite past achievements and the success of vehicle safety improvements; vehicle safety is not one of the key themes of the Framework.

5. To achieve further reductions in casualties the TSRC believes we must have an integrated policy that is based on the principle of achieving the safest vehicles driven by the safest drivers on the safest roads. Significant reductions in casualties will not be achieved without new advances in vehicle design and the Committee is urged to encourage the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that achieving the safest vehicle fleet possible becomes a principal road safety policy objective.

6. Car manufacturers have responded strongly to the previous UK led vehicle safety initiatives and better crash protection with improved seatbelts, airbags, car structures and other safety systems are now the norm. There are still opportunities for further improvements in injury mitigation, for example in the protection of side impact occupants on the far side of the vehicle, prevention of whiplash injuries and the protection of more vulnerable car occupants such as elderly drivers and passengers. Nevertheless future EU level developments in safety are focussing much more around new vehicle based primary safety systems that may prevent collisions occurring. Early examples include Electronic Stability Control (ESC), lane keeping systems and pedestrian detection and autobraking systems. Under development are more advanced technologies supporting information connectivity between vehicles and with road infrastructure and so-called co-operative systems are now being tested. Some of these systems are already known to be effective in reducing casualties. GB vehicles equipped with ESC have been shown to have a collision rate that is 6% lower than those without preventing 7,800 crashes with a saving to society of £959 million (Effectiveness of Electronic Stability Control Systems in Great Britain, DfT report PPAD 9/33/99).

7. There are high expectations that these new systems will provide large reductions in casualties however the evidence in many cases is weak. Without strong evidence of customer benefits manufacturers appear reluctant to install the systems but with few systems in use on the road the development of an evidence base is slow unless deliberate action is taken. The new safety technologies are normally not standard equipment but are only available as options and only occasionally selected, they can therefore only have a limited impact on collision numbers so the evidence takes a long time to build up. Without evidence it becomes difficult for industry or Government to actively promote the systems to the public. Vehicle safety is a technical area of policy and there is a close dependency on a strong evidence base yet UK support for vehicle safety research has been heavily reduced since 2010. The evidence base, including previously rich accident data resources, is rapidly becoming out of date and irrelevant. It is becoming increasingly difficult to develop new vehicle safety initiatives, to respond to those from other countries and to conduct the impact analyses that are required. The Framework includes a Road Safety Action Plan detailing key measures to be introduced yet it is highly disappointing that there is no intention to develop a detailed action plan for vehicle safety on the basis of supportive evidence. An example of such a plan, developed in the US, can be found at
http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/2011–2013_Vehicle_Safety-Fuel_Economy_Rulemaking-Research_Priority_Plan.pdf.

8. The Committee is urged to recommend that the Secretary of State for Transport develops a full action plan for future vehicle safety policy, integrated within the wider casualty reduction framework. It will support policymaking to achieve the highest levels of vehicle safety possible and will incorporate a clear plan to develop the necessary evidence base.

Decentralisation and Vehicle Safety

9. The Committee has requested views on whether decentralisation has an impact on road safety policies. Most vehicle safety policies are made at EU or wider level. Until recently vehicle safety standards have been set at EU level as Directives, however in response to the efficiency needs of a global car manufacturing industry the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations in Geneva is now the primary focus for technical regulations. It is clear that decisions concerning new vehicle standards and their implementation are far removed from local levels and citizens must rely on Government action to ensure the safety of vehicles.

Progress Indicators and Vehicle Safety

10. The Strategic Framework for Road Safety proposes a series of indicators to be used to monitor progress in road safety. A combination of outcome and intermediate indicators is widely viewed as an essential component of a strong road safety strategy however it is important that the intermediate indicators relate directly to individual policies. The measure “proportion of drivers injured among those involved in collisions by age of car” is proposed as a measure of vehicle safety although the framework suggests further work will be required. This measure will not be adequate as it does not directly relate to individual policies. The European Road Safety Observatory (www.erso.eu) proposes the proportion of vehicles with a five star Euro CAP performance as a valid measure however further indicators will become relevant as vehicle safety policies are developed.

11. It is recommended that the Committee scrutinise the proposed intermediate and final outcome indicators in order to ensure they provide a clear measure of progress concerning vehicle safety. The indicators should be produced annually as part of a wider review of road safety progress.

Conclusion

12. In conclusion vehicle safety systems have been highly effective in reducing car occupant casualties through improvements in crashworthiness and injury prevention. There is still more that can be achieved by protecting car occupants but new crash avoidance systems offer a much greater potential. The EU has established a target to reduce fatalities by 50% 2020 and this has been endorsed by all Member States. The TSRC believes this can only be achieved if the safest vehicles possible are on the road but it is a responsibility of national governments, through their road safety policies, to develop the most effective strategies to achieve this.

October 2011

Prepared 18th July 2012