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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Anger as car makers win safety battle
Peugeot 206 undergoing a crash test for European New Car Assessment Programme
Design changes could save about 2,000 deaths a year
Car manufacturers have come a step closer to escaping European legislation forcing them to design "pedestrian friendly" cars.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme has learned that a European Commissioner is calling for a voluntary code over proposed new laws.

EU pedestrians and cyclists
9,000 deaths a year
Design changes could save 2,100 deaths
200,000 serious injuries each year
Design changes could save 18,000 serious injuries
But safety campaigners are urging other commissioners to disagree, saying legislation is "essential" - and the voluntary code is flawed.

About 9,000 pedestrian and cyclists die every year on roads in the EU, and 200,000 are seriously injured.

'Lives could be saved'

Campaigners say changes to car designs could prevent up to 2,100 of these deaths, and cut injuries by about 10%.

It is hoped 290 lives could be saved in the UK alone.

The European Commission had been planning new legislation on the design of the cars, especially bonnets and bumpers.

There are few more important issues than this to legislate on - if we don't legislate here, what are we using legislation for?

Jeanne Breen
European Transport Safety Council
But Enterprise Commissioner, Erkii Liikanen, is now arguing for a voluntary code, drawn up by the automotive industry, instead.

He says a voluntary agreement could provide the same results, without the slow grind of the legislative process.

When his colleagues discuss the issue next week, he is expected to persuade them the threat of legislation should be lifted.

But Jeanne Breen, executive director of the European Transport Safety Council, said a new law was vital.

She said: "Legislation is absolutely essential. Lives are at stake.

"There are few more important issues than this to legislate on - if we don't legislate here, what are we using legislation for?

"The legislative process demands public scrutiny, it makes people accountable, it can be enforced. The voluntary agreement is going to fall down on all these issues."

The people who want the red tape seem to want to drag the whole process out into years and years

Christopher Macgowan
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders
Safety campaigners who have seen the manufacturers' two-stage proposals also say they are flawed.

Stage one of the programme would offer only half as much protection as the Commission's planned directive would have, they said.

They feared stage two - which commits to further improvements to be decided at a later date - would never happen.

They said voluntary changes could lead to poor design and make injuries worse.

'Voluntary is best'

But Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said a voluntary agreement was the quickest way of getting results.

He said: "Legislation is a long, long drawn out procedure.

"We do want to play a big role in reducing accidents and deaths... yet the people who want the red tape seem to want to drag the whole process out into years and years."

He said the code would produce real improvements by 2005 - whereas legislators may still not have agreed a law by 2010.

Mr Magowan denied it was only the threat of legislation which had persuaded the industry to draw up the code.

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