Softer focus

While welcoming recent legislation to improve the level of pedestrian and cyclist protection on vehicles, Ian Finney says it is vital to develop products for maximum energy-absorption

The speed of progress in pedestrian safety features for cars has frustrated many European vehicle safety organisations, including those at independent crash test programme Euro NCAP.

‘I am continually disappointed by the lack of commitment and effort shown by manufacturers to improve the level of pedestrian protection on their vehicles,’ said its chairman Claes Tingvall. ‘This is an area where there are few front-runners and massive room for improvement.’

This is beginning to change with recent EU legislation and new products from companies that promise to make vehicles safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The EU Directives on Frontal Protection Systems (FPS), effective since 25 May, prohibits the sale of non-compliant, rigid structures, such as metal bull bars and metal A Frames (which exacerbate the problems of the vehicles) for the fronts of vehicles. It also introduces objective, performance standards for FPSs.

The introduction of energy-absorbing surfaces, which enhance vehicle safety, will reduce the risk of vulnerable road users of being killed or seriously injured in collisions with vehicles. By 2010-2012, all motor manufacturers that want to sell vehicles in the EU will have to incorporate systems that enhance pedestrian safety into frontal designs.

Many automotive suppliers realised the potential market for making vehicles safer for pedestrians years before the EU directives. Concept Mouldings, for example, has spent the past 10 years developing Endura FPS, a unique type of plastic-moulded, energy-absorbing structure for the front of vehicles.

The importance of this range of life-saving products is underlined by the statistics produced for the EU by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory — 900 pedestrians and cyclists killed on UK roads each year, and more than 12,000 across Europe. An even more sobering statistic is that each year in Europe 290,000 pedestrians and cyclists are seriously injured in traffic accidents.

The high incidence of severe pedestrian injuries and deaths should be the primary driver for automotive suppliers. Rather than seeking minimum improvements to meet the new EU legislation, the objective should be to develop products that produce the maximum energy-absorbing benefits in all areas of pedestrian protection, including head, abdominal/pelvic as well as upper and lower leg regions.

Almost all serious and fatal injuries are caused by injury to the head and abdomen (including pelvis) regions.

As well the EU directives now coming into force, automotive suppliers need to anticipate legislation on vehicle safety that is due to be put in place in 2010-2012. This will require vehicles to be made safer for pedestrians by reducing their impact during collisions. Improvements will be required to address the main concerns — head injuries for children and pelvic and abdomen injuries for adults.

Concept Mouldings is seeking joint ventures with research, technology and manufacturing partners to assist in integrating passive and active pedestrian safety solutions. Such solutions would move the Endura FPS and Endura Fully Active Safety Technology (EFAST) to active pre-collision positions and integrate by simultaneously deploying external airbags, to protect pedestrians from vehicle hard points and windscreen, and also reduce the risk of them being forced under the wheels of a vehicle.

This technology would also minimise vehicle-to-vehicle accident damage for insurance purposes, together with collisions when there is a mismatch in the height of the vehicles — especially when a high-fronted vehicle ‘T-bones’ a passenger car. In these side- impact collisions, the front of large, light commercial vehicles, pick-ups, 4X4s or SUVs typically hit above the sill and the energy-absorbing structure of a passenger car, resulting in critical intrusions into the occupant compartment and, in some instances, even causing failure of the occupant cell.

A number of current vehicle designs already have moulded fronts so all or parts of the system outlined could be incorporated easily and quickly without compromising the external appearance of the vehicle.

The widespread use of FPSs such as Endura and its associated technologies using energy absorption and active technology will reduce human tragedy and contribute to the target of the European Commission to reduce road traffic fatalities in the EU by 50 per cent in 2010.

Ian Finney is the managing director of Concept Mouldings