EU road fatalities have been reduced by more than half since 2001, from 54,900 just after the turn of the century to 25,300 in 2017. By contrast, the number of passenger cars on Europe’s roads increased from just over 200 million to 259.7 million during the same period.
Although there are now roughly 60 million more cars on our roads than in 2001, accidents still have gone down significantly. The European Union also has the safest roads in the world, counting 49 fatalities per million inhabitants annually, while the global average is 174 fatalities.
Nevertheless, all major players in the mobility sector agree that road casualties should be further reduced, with the vision of working towards zero traffic fatalities in the future. The only way to reach this goal is by ensuring that safe vehicles are driven by safe drivers on safe roads. Indeed, further improving road safety does not only depend on equipping vehicles with more safety features.
Human error (such as distraction, poor anticipation and violation of traffic rules) is the cause of 90% of today’s accidents. This means that we need to combine cutting-edge vehicle technology with improved driver behaviour, better road design and maintenance, and better enforcement of existing traffic regulations.
The EU automotive industry invests a large part of the sector’s annual €54 billion R&D budget in making passenger cars and commercial vehicles even safer. When looking at vehicle design, safety measures can be classified into two categories:
- Active safety systems
- Passive safety systems
Together, they have substantially reduced the number of accidents and related injuries over the last few decades.
1. Active safety systems
Active safety technology can prevent accidents from happening altogether or at least actively help the driver to reduce the impact of an emergency situation. Think, for example, of systems that give the driver more control in dangerous situations, such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC). There are also autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems that automatically intervene if the driver is not taking any action (or not fast enough), as well as technology to ensure that you don’t leave your lane unintendedly, like lane departure warning (LDW).
Simply put, active safety systems avoid or mitigate an accident pre-impact – so before it happens or contact is made.
2. Passive safety systems
Passive safety systems, on the other hand, protect the occupants of a vehicle and other road users if a crash occurs. They do this by reducing the impact of an accident or the level of injury. Today, a range of built-in mechanisms protect occupants of a car in case of a crash, such as pre-tensioned seatbelts, airbags and energy-absorbing deformation zones (also known as crumple zones).
In other words, passive safety technology is all about mitigating the consequences of an accident during and after impact, as from the moment that first contact is made.
Finally, there are also post-crash safety systems. e-Call, for example, automatically informs emergency services in case of a serious road traffic accident. As of 31 March 2018, EU automobile manufacturers equip all new types of passenger cars and vans with eCall. This system cuts the response time of emergency services by up to 40-50%, thereby saving hundreds of lives every year.