Europe agrees raft of safety features to be baked into new vehicles

All new vehicles sold in the European Union must have a wide range of safety features baked in as standard in the coming years, after EU institutions reached provisional agreement on a safety regulation that’s aimed at protecting passengers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Once formally adopted, most of the new safety features will become mandatory from 2022.

The Commission says it expects the measures will help save more than 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038.

Among the safety measures set to be baked in is anti-speeding technology that alerts drivers if they’re breaking the speed limit to encourage them to slow down; and breathalyzers that prevent a vehicle from starting until the driver passes a breath test. (Aka “intelligent speed assistance” and “alcohol interlock installation facilitation,” in the Commission’s formal parlance.)

Other incoming mandatory safety features include advanced emergency braking; drowsiness and attention detection; distraction recognition (likely targeted at smartphone use by drivers); lane-keeping assistance; “black box” accident data recorders; and detector and alert systems on trucks and buses to warn when vulnerable road users such as cyclists are in close proximity.

The full list of soon-to-be mandatory safety features can be downloaded here — accompanied by a diagram in case you didn’t know where to find a seat belt or realize a “reversing camera” is sited on the trunk.

Two features — direct vision for trucks and buses; and enlarged head impact zone on cars and vans — have been excluded from the 2022 deadline, with the Commission saying they will follow later due to “necessary structural design changes.”

The revised General Safety Regulation was agreed after trilogue discussions between the Commission, Council and parliament, which just leaves a formal vote by the latter two to rubberstamp and green light the new rules. 

The Commission proposed making certain vehicle safety measures mandatory back in May 2018.

It argues that the advanced safety features will reduce the number of accidents on the roads, given the vast majority of road accident fatalities and injuries are caused by human error, as well as helping “pave the way towards increasingly connected and automated mobility.”

So, in plainer English, this is also about setting European motorists on the road toward a fully automated, driverless future. (Or, to put it another way, high-tech feature creep will slowly overtake human agency.)

“All this should enhance public trust and acceptance of automated cars, supporting the transition towards autonomous driving,” the Commission suggests.

There do also appear to have been compromises made to try to steer around any backlash from motorists — such as not imposing speed-limiter technology, but rather applying a softer option of sounding speed warnings when limits are broken. Which means a driver could still choose to manually override the safety feature and break the speed limit anyway.

The Commission adds that it hopes the safety features will boost Europe’s car industry by increasing its competitiveness and global innovation.

A more cynical interpretation might suggest the move aims to carve out a market buffer for homegrown vehicle manufacturers as European car makers will have no choice but to invest in the necessary technologies — whereas non-European car companies may not share the same focus.

Any failure to invest in a timely fashion could therefore result in vehicles from foreign car makers being locked out of the market or else encourage their makers to procure the necessary tech from European rivals.