Crunch time for car makers

It is difficult to disagree with the intention of the latest piece of European legislation aimed at the car industry.

The directive, the first phase of which will come into effect next year, requires car makers to do more to prevent serious injury to pedestrians who are hit head-on by a vehicle.

In essence it will require a redesign of the bonnet and bumper to create more space between the leading edge and the hard components such as the engine underneath.

The aim is that in a collision, the energy-absorbing capabilities of any vehicle are sufficient to prevent the legs of a pedestrian beingbroken.

At present most vehicles do not comply, and extensive redesigns are likely to be required in the SUV, sports and small car ranges. The legislation looks set to have a highly visible impact on, for example, the BMW Z4, the Smart and Ford Ka, and a range of other models where styling is an important part of the package.

Despite this, you can’t really argue that the car industry should not be expected to improve pedestrian safety. Having done so much to make driving safer for the occupants of their vehicles, it is time they turned their attention to those outside.

Most of the car industry seems to accept this point of view. The directive is the product of a voluntary agreement between theEuropean car makers association, ACEA, and the European Union.Similar agreements have been reached in the past on othermatters, but unusually this one has been enshrined into law on the insistence of the EU.

That’s probably not a bad thing. Cars do terrible damage to people when they hit them. Really cars should not be allowed anywhere near people. What kind of madman thought it was a good idea to have hurtling lumps of metal and children or even adults in the same space, separated by only a few feet of thin air? Of course people are going to get killed.

The question is, are these new rules asking too much of the car makers? Bonnets, bumpers and even headlamps will have to be changed, which will have a knock-on effect on other parts of the car such as ground clearance and the driver’s field of view. In some cases the entire body shape will have to be re-worked.

Many in the industry believe it is going to be difficult to comply with the new regulations and it will take all the skill of the designers to get round it. And they will have to. Cars that don’t look nice don’t sell.Repackaging the car in this way will go some way to mitigating the effects of a collision. But what about preventing the collision altogether.

There is a strong argument in favour of developing active systems that anticipate a collision and override the controls accordingly.