Fleet News

Guest opinion: Too much legislation may take the fun out of driving

THE European Commission wants to halve the number of deaths on Europe’s roads by 2010.

In its White Paper, it lays out the massive human and financial costs of the current carnage: 40,000 deaths, 1.7m injured a year; a total cost to the EU economy of more than £100bn.

And that’s the improved figures – road accident deaths have fallen by half over the past 30 years, a period during which traffic volume has tripled.

The improved figures are partly thanks to the Euro NCAP tests which dragged manufacturers, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the safety arena. Now crumple zones, multiple airbags and collapsible steering columns are commonplace. Everyone knows what they are and data about every model is readily available to consumers.

NCAP’s latest drive is focused on pedestrians. Its four-star rating system ranks models for leg, upper leg, child head and adult head protection.

Peugeot is one of the first manufacturers to react. Its new 407 has shock-absorbing foam padding fitted to the lower part of the pedestrian beam, the final element of the bottom structure, and to the top of the bumper bar. The bonnet’s rigidity and its distance from the mechanical components it houses have been optimised to reduce head injuries.

Will that boost sales? Unlikely in the short-term.

The company would argue that its action is based on moral obligations towards pedestrian safety rather than corporate gain. But it will exploit the opportunity to promote its safety record by displaying the NCAP logo on magazine ads. Volvo, which for years existed on the back of the perceived safety of its models, is finding other car manufacturers muscling in on its territory – often with better results. Renault has one of the best records in the NCAP tests, a fact recently underlined when its new Modus supermini achieved a five-star rating – the first small car to hit the maximum.

Legislation is another important factor in reducing road-related deaths. Wearing seatbelts became compulsory in 1983 and in July this year an EU directive required all new cars to be sold with anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Active safety systems like ABS are the new focal point. Electronic steering, suspension and braking aids boost the vehicle’s stability under duress and lessen the chances of the accident occurring in the first place.

No-one would argue with the need to cut – if not eliminate completely – road-related deaths and accidents. Experts point to a future where cars are fully automated with sensors that measure and control the distance between travelling cars, particularly on the motorway. The car really would become a means of solely getting from A to B with no fun or emotion involved.

Hi-tech safety is already available on executive models like the BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class, and will filter down to mass market cars. The sensors can be switched off – but will a future Government attempt to legislate for mandatory controls?

What would that mean for the fleet industry? Would cheaper brands like Daewoo and Kia with their low running costs and strong aftersales packages curry greater favour for the A to B-ers? Would there be much point in manufacturers producing performance models if control of the car is in the hands of sensors, rather than the hands of the driver?

Everyone would become chauffeured, so the key selling points for drivers could become the cabin area, with all investment thrown at making the driving environment as comfortable as possible. Out go the excessive bhps and sharp handling, in come air suspensions, plush seating and shag-pile carpets.

Is that the future for the car industry?

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