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Assessing vehicle compatibility in road accidents (Fimcar)

Traditionally, car crash safety testing has focused mainly on the protection of drivers and passengers in wall impact scenarios. The ‘Fimcar’ project has been looking more closely at real-world accidents and considering better ways to assess safety.

Tags: Road
Vehicle compatibility in road accidents ©Peter Gutierrez

Good performance in conventional crash testing situations does not always guarantee good performance in real world accidents, as shown by accident data analysis. In real accidents involving frontal collisions, the compatibility between the two vehicles is crucial.

“For example,” explains Heiko Johannsen of the Technical University of Berlin, “one car may override the other, which translates into an unacceptable injury risk for the overridden car. While this problem is obvious for some specific vehicles, e.g. large SUVs vs. small cars, it has also been reported in accidents involving two cars of the same model.”

Johannsen is coordinator of the EU-funded Fimcar project, aimed at studying the compatibility of vehicles in road accidents. Fimcar analysed in detail vehicle-to-vehicle accident issues and, crucially, derive requirements for future frontal impact regulations.

“Previous work in this area,” he says, “has tended to end without a clear proposal for future regulation, concluding with ‘further research is needed’. One of the reasons was that safety assessments were based on an older fleet. Today, we have a sufficiently large number of real-life accidents involving cars that actually meet the current frontal impact standards. So we can study and assess the results of these accidents and make recommendations based on stronger data.”

What we need

The results of the Fimcar assessments indicate, for example, that structural interactions between vehicles need to be better considered, including alignment of main structures, height and section size, etc. Future regulations need to encompass the assessment of this kind of structural alignment, as well as the homogeneity of vehicle front ends, and the assessment of self-protection in a wider variety of situations, including full vehicle overlap.

Johannsen says he believes Fimcar recommendations could save approximately 900 to 1000 lives per year in the EU27, and reduce the number of serious injuries by 6900 to 13 800. “In economic terms, of course it is difficult to put a monetary value on a human life, but we are certainly thinking in terms of billions of euros. And if the costs needed to achieve this improvement do not exceed €100 to €300 per car, then the cost-benefit ratio would be in favour of realising our proposals.”

Johannsen also says international co-operation was crucial in the context of this project. “Vehicle regulation has to cover international needs, experience and opinions, on a European but also a world-wide level.” The Fimcar consortium drew partners from all over Europe, but also worked in co-operation with Japan and the US to achieve a maximum benefit, he says.

One of the European Commission’s central objectives is to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured in road accidents. EC project officer Ludger Rogge says, “Fimcar is a project that has achieved good results in terms of improving the compatibility of cars, and this will decrease the injury risks of occupants in both single and multiple vehicle accidents.”

Fimcar gathers some of Europe’s most important automobile manufacturers, including Fiat, Opel, PSA, Renault, Volvo, Volkswagen, and others, demonstrating the industry’s clear interest in delivering the highest safety standards. But along with its commitment to saving lives, the partnership is also helping to strengthen the competitiveness of the European automotive industry. Being able to build safer vehicles to higher standards means European cars are more competitive on the international market.