29 Nov 2018
Speech by David Ward, Secretary General of the Global New Car Assessment Programme

European Parliament Internal Market & Consumer Protection – Workshop on Type-approval requirements for motor vehicles as regards their general safety and the protection of vehicle occupants and vulnerable road users – Brussels Thursday 29th November 2018

Madam Chair, Roza Thun, Members of the European Parliament, and Colleagues

I am honoured to be able to participate in this workshop which comes at a critical time for road and vehicle safety in the European Union. I am pleased to be representing the Global New Car Assessment Programme which works to promote safer cars worldwide, but also to share my experience of twenty-four years engagement in EU vehicle safety. In 1994 I led the Brussels representation office of the FIA, and in 1996 I became a founding Board member of the European New Car Assessment Programme.

And with that background I would like to pay tribute to the crucial role played by the European Parliament over twenty years ago in mandating a huge improvement in passenger car safety. This October was the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of EU crash test standards for front and side impact. These 1998 regulations massively improved occupant protection by applying ‘state of the art’ crash test procedures – notably the Offset Deformable Barrier for frontal impact which was designed to replicate real world crashes and prevent life threatening intrusion into the occupant compartment. This also became the benchmark for Euro NCAP’s consumer tests first released in 1997 and run at a higher speed of 64 km/h. Since then, the combination of the EU’s crash test standards and Euro NCAP have been the main contributor to halving vehicle occupant deaths across the EU, saving nearly eighty thousand lives.

This success came about because of the European Parliament. Lobbying by the car manufactures in the mid-1990s persuaded the European Commission to delay the introduction of the Offset Deformable Barrier and weaken the side impact test too. But the Parliament, led by its then rapporteur Alan Donnelly, decisively rejected this approach and successfully strengthened the Commission’s original proposal. Tens of thousands of lives and serious injuries have been avoided because of these actions and the Parliament’s unwavering commitment to high levels of consumer protection. What may seem like an old story to many of you is still very current for me in my role as Secretary General of Global NCAP. And that is because the EU’s crash test standards, having been adopted as UN Regulations, are now being applied around the world by emerging car producing countries like Brazil, India, Malaysia and Mexico. This is really important as today some global car makers are still willing to sell new cars that fail to meet these twenty year old standards.

I believe that there are important lessons from this experience which are highly relevant to the Parliament’s current discussions about the next steps in EU vehicle regulation. There are three key points I would like to recommend to MEPs:

Firstly, understand the power of regulation to accelerate fitment rates through the whole vehicle fleet. If we leave it to the market, vital safety systems will take too long to penetrate 100% through all model types. This is because new technologies tend to be introduced in high end vehicles and remain only optional for smaller vehicle classes. But very often the most at risk in road crashes are those in small vehicles. And surely, we cannot allow safety to be considered a luxury only for the better off? That’s why regulation in the end is vital, it ensures that safety systems are shared by all vehicles and promotes economics of scale that make them more affordable.

Secondly, legislate at the leading edge of technology. It is standard practice for the industry to argue for sufficient lead times to allow them to adjust production. This is fair and reasonable. But it is never wise to legislate at less than state of the art technology. So, my advice is resist the lowest common denominator and promote technologies that are challenging to the status quo. Because today’s status quo is for sure behind today’s best available technology. Over twenty years ago we were told that the Offset Deformable Barrier was not ready for use in legislation and that affordable small five-star cars were technically impossible. Both propositions were nonsense then and we proved them to be false.

Thirdly, don’t dilute the Commission’s proposal or undermine the policy process. Twenty plus years ago the Commission’s Directorates were internally divided on the issue of crash test standards. A struggle between DG3 Enterprise and DG7 Transport produced a muddled and unacceptable compromise. The Parliament had to intervene on behalf of the public interest to put safety first. In the case of the 3rd Mobility Package and the vehicle safety proposals I can only say that I have never witnessed before a more comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-based policy process. Every stakeholder had every opportunity to make their views known. This took time and if there is any criticism to be made, it concerns the delay that has caused. But crucially it is a package in which every part contributes to the effectiveness of the whole. It will not be so effective if an attempt is made to ‘cherry pick’ some technologies and delay others. That undermines the cost benefit estimates and the integrity of the entire policy dialogue so patiently organised by the Commission.

It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that Global NCAP fully supports the European Commission’s proposal. We endorse all its provisions and are especially pleased to see Autonomous Emergency Braking and Intelligent Speed Assistance included. Twenty years ago we began to see huge improvements in occupant protection through improved crashworthiness. This was extended ten years ago to vulnerable road users through better pedestrian protection requirements. Then with mandatory electronic stability control, crash avoidance became a new source of fatality and injury reduction.

Today we are seeing ever greater synergy between both crash protection and crash avoidance. That, for example, is why we strongly welcome the Commission’s proposals for both improved passive pedestrian protection and pedestrian AEB. And, of course, improved speed management is at the heart of the safety systems approach. According to the World Health Organisation a 5% reduction in average speeds will bring a 30% reduction in road fatalities. That is why we believe that ISA is so important and ready for legislation. And, of course, it is an essential prerequisite for progress towards vehicle autonomy.

In conclusion, over the last two decades the EU has led the world in vehicle safety and that has contributed to us having the world’s safest roads. But in recent years, progress has stalled and too many are still being killed and seriously injured in road crashes across the EU. I strongly believe that the vehicle safety proposals of the Commission’s 3rd Mobility Package are needed to get Europe on track to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. I very much hope that the European Parliament will fully support this goal and these vital vehicle safety measures. Your duty of democratic scrutiny is, of course, essential, and if the Commission’s proposal needs improvement that is always worth considering. But respectfully may I request MEPs to avoid any dilution or delay which would, I believe, betray the European Parliament’s remarkable legacy of achievement in road safety.

Thank you very much.