UK: Pedestrian safety is vehicle designers' new priority
The drive to save pedestrian lives in Europe is about to fundamentally alter the design of European cars, according to Automotive News Europe.
Vehicle front ends will have to become higher, squarer and bulkier when new regulations are introduced in just over two years' time.
New European laws effective October 1, 2005, are designed to better protect pedestrians and cyclists against road accidents.
Each year, 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists die in road accidents in Europe.
That's one-fifth of the total road-death toll of 40,000. The EU wants to halve the number of total casualties by 2010.
"Spectacular progress has been made on car passengers' safety in the case of a head-on crash," said Patrick de Bellescize, vice president of marketing at French supplier Faurecia. "Pedestrian safety is now becoming the new frontier."
Front-end component suppliers such as Faurecia are working with carmakers' designers on how best to meet the new rules. But designers are also concerned about maintaining attractive front-end designs.
Four pedestrian-safety tests have been devised. The first two measure the impact of a crash on the lower leg and a child's head. A further two assess the impact on the upper leg and an adult's head.
The first tests will have to be met by new models in October 2005; the second tests by September 1, 2010. This is according to EU rules that have just been approved by the EU parliament. The rules are expected to receive final approval by the council of ministers this September.
"We are confident this package will be effective," said Alfredo Filippone, a spokesman for ACEA, the European car makers' association. "We are pleased with it as it stands."
But Bellescize warned: "Car designers will have to accept the necessity to design bumpers that include these second, lower contact points."
Materials used in the production of front ends will also have to evolve.
A Renault spokeswoman predicted "a lot of foam in the front end."
Other new materials are being researched. US supplier Dow Automotive and the University of Manchester in England are studying use of a new material called SALI, which stands for Shock Absorbing Liquid, reports French magazine Usine Nouvelle.
SALI consists of flexible capsules filled with an unnamed material and some gas. When placed inside a bumper, SALI could absorb a lot of energy resulting from a collision.
To protect against skull injury, designers must allow more space between the bonnet and the engine.
Wipers will increasingly be hidden rather than resting on the windshield, said Emmanuel d'Orsay, Valeo's head of research and development.
Swedish supplier Autoliv is working on a pyrotechnic device that in case of a collision could raise a car's hood, or propel it forward to provide a cushioning contact point, Automotive News Europe said.