The European Commission and ACEA, the European car producers' association, are to discuss striking a voluntary agreement on guidelines for car front designs, that will minimise pedestrian casualties in accidents.

A statement from the Commission, following a meeting with manufacturers last week, said that there were benefits in a voluntary deal over a regulation, in that "a negotiated agreement can be considerably faster to implement and thus more lives could be saved faster.

"A negotiated agreement can be more flexible in the face of fast-moving technological innovations."

The statement added that if the discussions led to a "satisfactory result" in terms of future testing requirements for cars, such an agreement should include "clear and quantified objectives, obligations to report, and the need to revert to legislation if the agreement is not fulfilled."

Meanwhile, the Commission said that it was looking for the motor industry to be involved in more positive measures, such as "promoting technical advances on development for sensors detecting obstacles or children behind cars."

The statement said that Brussels was still prepared to regulate, if agreement could not be reached, although it accepted that was difficult and would be unprecedented internationally.

It would be introduced via the co-decision procedure (giving the European Parliament a veto), and would "provide vehicle manufacturers with legal protection against possible general product liability claims."

It added: "The Commission is convinced that action is needed to ensure that cars are safer for pedestrians.

"The numbers of pedestrians and cyclists killed and injured in Europe is too high. Pedestrian-friendly car fronts are an important element of this policy."