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 160
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."
policy and road safety
In 1992, even before
the advent of the single market, the European Commission approved
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
- 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
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.
Under the Commission's
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;
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.
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
). "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."
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
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
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
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
project is studying the energy absorbing behaviour of various materials
and structures, with a view to protecting 'weaker' traffic participants
like cyclists and pedestrians.
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
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."
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
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."
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
For more on the EVPSN, visit the network's website
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
COMPATIBILITY - Improvement of crash compatibility
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.