IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to a disclaimer and a copyright notice
Banner Research
  European Commission   > Research > Growth
Homepage Competitive and Sustainable Growth - Making the European Research Area a Reality
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > The European vehicle passive safety network: new approaches to road safety
Graphic element The European vehicle passive safety network: new approaches to road safety

Every year, more than 40 000 people are killed in the 15 Member States as a result of road accidents. Another 1.5 million are injured, often being severely crippled. The fact that so many of our citizens die violently or suffer horrible injuries while simply going about their daily business, should, at the very least, create cause for concern. Now, the European Vehicle Passive Safety Network is taking up the challenge.

For many, the high number of road fatalities is the most severe problem facing Europe today, the greatest threat to public safety, and one of the most dire catastrophes in history. In any other context, the loss of so many lives would constitute a major disaster, demanding immediate and drastic action.

"The situation has become intolerable," says Patrick Mercier-Handisyde of the Commission's Research Directorate-General (DG). "We don't need to talk about the devastating economic effects, the medical expenses and all the rest (the annual cost to Europe due to road accidents is more than Euro160 billion). This is a human tragedy. Our citizens are being killed in the tens of thousands and something has to be done about it."

But getting the safety message across, largely a problem of communication, is not as easy as it sounds. The European Vehicle Passive Safety Network (EVPSN) has been established to promote passive safety research and, equally importantly, to help in the dissemination of information and results, all with a view to reducing the number of casualties on European roads. According to EVPSN co-ordinator Dr J.S.H.M. Wismans of TNO Automotive in the Netherlands, "We are talking about a very large social problem. The number of people being killed is simply too high. We can look at a variety of strategies for changing that - better roads, better brakes and the like - these measures are aimed at stopping accidents from happening in the first place, but if we assume that accidents will still happen, then we have to look at strategies for minimising the damage. This is where the EVPSN comes in."

Background: transport policy and road safety

In 1992, even before the advent of the single market, the European Commission approved a White Paper laying out a new Common Transport Policy (CTP). The CTP continues to underpin much of the work now being pursued in all of the transport sectors, with road safety remaining a key issue. In 1997 the Commission presented its Action Programme for road safety, entitled "Promoting road safety in the EU: the programme for 1997-2001". In follow-up, the Commission published its Communication on Road Transport Safety in March 2000, updating progress on the Action Programme and recommending further measures.

EU road safety policy follows three strategic lines:

  • Active safety measures - preventing accidents from happening in the first place, most importantly by influencing driver behaviour through regulation, law enforcement, etc., but also by improving roads and vehicle performance;
  • Passive safety measures - limiting the negative consequences of accidents when they do occur through improved vehicle standards and safety systems;
  • Information gathering and dissemination - Originally intended to influence consumers by providing a realistic and independent assessment of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) has also had an important influence on car manufacturers, many of which are now actively involved in road safety issues. Meanwhile, the CARE accident statistics database gathers and makes available information on the causes of accidents and injury.
Research activities

Under the Commission's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), research activities on road safety fall under three key actions:

With respect to the Growth Programme's 'Land Transport and Marine Technologies' key action, the strategic aim is to develop the technological infrastructure for the supply of future transport, including road, rail and maritime transport. The research effort for road transport is organised around the development of critical technologies and their integration and validation within industrial platforms. The expected results include improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions (CO2, noise, etc.), improved performance for new vehicles, especially in terms of safety, and improved competitivity.

Research in the area of road transport focuses on three main issues: the development of efficient, clean and intelligent vehicles; the development of innovative and safe vehicles, including both active and passive safety; and human-vehicle interactions.


As its name suggests, the EVPSN was set up to co-ordinate research activities on passive road safety. Launched in 1998 under FP4, it gathers 49 partners representing the European automotive industry, suppliers of safety systems, and research and academic institutions active in the field of passive safety. Its ultimate goals are to contribute to the reduction of the number of road traffic victims in Europe through passive safety measures and to establish a basis for co-operation among actors in the field of road safety.

The EVPSN works by identifying links between different projects, working towards project integration and synergy. It also facilitates technology transfer and co-operation, accelerating dissemination and results analysis. Finally, knowledge and technology gaps can be identified, helping to develop future research strategies.

Focusing on the area of passive safety, that is, once again, the question of what happens during a crash, the work of the EVPSN is divided into five specific tasks:

1. Accident statistics and investigation;
2. Biomechanics and models;
3. Materials;
4. Vehicle structure crashworthiness;
5. Occupant protection systems.

A number of projects are now ongoing in each of these areas under the co-ordination of the EVPSN.

Accident statistics and investigation

This task is aimed at advancing methods and tools for providing reliable European road accident data with respect to road users and accidents.

"As in all the sciences, observation is the key," explains task co-ordinator Francoise Brun-Cassan of France's Laboratory of Accidentology and Biomechanics (Peugeot /Renault ). "There are a variety of entities which carry out statistical studies and crash tests, and some that study the results of actual road accidents. Our primary goal is to understand who the players are in European accidentology, what they are doing, and how we can co-ordinate our activities so as to maximise our effectiveness."

Projects under this task include STAIRS , aimed at developing a Europe-wide crash injury database allowing early identification of safety problems and quick and accurate evaluation of remedial measures. Meanwhile, the CHILD project, recently proposed under FP5, will gather and provide data on injuries sustained by children during road accidents.

"No one group can carry out the research needed for developing and producing new road safety systems. We need large amounts of data from all European countries for appropriate statistical analysis," says Brun-Cassan. "That's why it is so important that we work together on this."

Biomechanics and models

Here, research is being undertaken to understand injuries sustained during road accidents and their mechanisms, including the development of tools for simulating the effects of accidents on human beings.

"We need human substitutes and models to evaluate the mechanisms of accidents and injuries," says task co-ordinator J.P. Verriest of France's National Institute for Transport and Safety Research (INRETS) . "We cannot simply put products like cars on the market and then wait to see what happens. We have to design for safety first and to do this we have to know what happens to the human body during a crash."

Most people will be familiar with crash tests in which dummies play the parts of accident victims. Projects such as FID are gathering biomechanical data to apply in the development of improved crash test dummies. Meanwhile, the HUMOS study is focusing on the mathematical modelling of the complex geometries of the human body.

"This type of work can be controversial," says Verriest. "Tests using animals and post mortal human subjects, i.e. cadavers, have led some to challenge the ethics of biomechanical testing." Indeed, a recent workshop in France stressed, among other things, the importance of strict guidelines and open communication with the public about such research.


Under this task, advanced materials and modelling are being used to study optimal crash energy diffusion while taking into account related developments such as the trend towards lighter vehicle designs.

According to task co-ordinator G. Rausch of Germany's Fraunhofer IFAM , "Generally speaking, the lighter the vehicle, the worse its crashworthiness. So, in order to achieve the sort of performance we see in heavier vehicles, we need to look at new and different materials."

The METEOR project is doing just that. Within the context of the increasing demand for strong yet light materials, newly developed metallic foams have proven very promising. The METEOR project is investigating production technologies for aluminium and titanium foam for the automotive industry. In a related area, the EAMLIFE project is studying the energy absorbing behaviour of various materials and structures, with a view to protecting 'weaker' traffic participants like cyclists and pedestrians.

Vehicle structure crashworthiness

Work under this heading is closely linked to the 'materials' task and concerns advanced intelligent vehicle structural technologies that improve vehicle crashworthiness and impact absorbing capability.

"The focus here is on people," says task co-ordinator Wolfram Hell of the Institute for Vehicle Safety in Germany . "The type of injuries we see, for example when a pedestrian is hit by a car, has a lot to do with things like front-end contour and stiffness. We are also looking at the question of compatibility. We need to develop automobile configurations whereby we can limit the damage when, for instance, a large vehicle collides with a smaller vehicle."

Good examples of this type of work are the COMPATIBILITY and COMPATIBILTY II projects wherein the interaction of colliding vehicle structures is being analysed. The goal is the development of common design rules to achieve an optimum structural interaction of vehicles.

"Co-operation in this kind of work is extremely important," says Hell. "We are meeting colleagues that we never knew about who are working in the same field. Through our workshops and meetings we can talk and interact and discover gaps in the research we are doing as well as places where we are repeating work unnecessarily."

Occupant protection systems

Work in this area focuses on both intelligent active restraint systems and passive protection technologies for the best achievable protection for all vehicle occupants in all accident situations.

"Our goal is to insure that occupants are brought to rest safely when an accident occurs," says task co-ordinator Richard Morris of MIRA in the UK. "We are talking about seat belts and air bags, but also things like padding and head restraints. We are currently working on a proposal concerning an intelligent restraint system, called PRISM, which can adjust itself to the size of the occupant and the type of crash." Other projects in this area include CREST , a recently completed project on child restraint systems, and WHIPLASH and WHIPLASH II, concerned with understanding and preventing neck injuries.

"The EU contribution is very important in this kind of work," says Morris. "A single company or research institute working alone on something like this could never hope to achieve what we're doing as a co-ordinated network, especially when it comes to data collection for new standards."

Looking ahead

Again, EVPSN co-ordinator Dr Wismans: "We have now asked for an extension of the EVPSN under FP5 , to be called EVPSN II, . In addition to continuing with all of the tasks already underway, our work under EVPSN II will focus on the enlargement of our network. This is very important work which will certainly have a profound impact on future road vehicle safety regulations."

For more on the EVPSN, visit the network's website at:

Background: transport policy and road safety
Research activities
Accident statistics and investigation
Biomechanics and models
Vehicle structure crashworthiness
Occupant protection systems
Looking ahead

Key data

Work carried out by the EVPSN thematic network is supported under the Growth Programme's Land transport and marine technologies key action.


STAIRS - Standardisation of accident and injury registration systems;
CHILD - Child injury led design;
FID - Improved frontal impact protection through a world frontal impact dummy;
HUMOS - Human model for safety;
METEOR - Lightweight metal foam components for the transport industry;
EAMLIFE - Energy absorbing materials for low impact forces;
COMPATIBILITY - Improvement of crash compatibility between cars;
COMPATIBILITY II - Development of criteria and standards for vehicle compatibility;
CREST - Child restraint system for cars;
WHIPLASH - Reduction of neck injuries and their societal costs in rear end collisions;
WHIPLASH II - Development of new design and test methods for whiplash protection in vehicle collisions.


Homepage Graphic element Top of the page