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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
How to make cars safe for pedestrians

When hit by a moving vehicle, pedestrians are not likely to walk away unscathed. But how can car-makers minimise the harm? BBC News Online's Megan Lane reports.

Last year more than 850 UK pedestrians died after being hit by cars. Many thousands more were injured.

Walking wounded
857 pedestrians killed last year in the UK
42,000 injured
Although the European Commission is looking at new laws to make cars safer for pedestrians in the event of accidents, road safety campaigners fear it will merely agree to a watered-down voluntary agreement.

As most vehicles hit pedestrians front-on, softer and more flexible bumpers and bonnets could save lives, says Professor Adrian Hobbs of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).

Crash test dummy
Most cars hit head-on
"The bumper is the first thing to hit you, and it may break your leg. Next is the leading edge of the bonnet, which will hit a child's torso, and an adult's upper leg or pelvis.

"After that, you'll hit your head on the bonnet as you roll around on the front of the car. A child's head will hit near the front, while an adult will hit further back."

Here, Professor Hobbs explains how cars can made safer for pedestrians:

Bumpers: As most are now made of plastic and designed to spread the load of an impact, these pose less of a risk to pedestrians than in the days of steel bumpers.

Crash outside nightclub
Hundreds of pedestrians die each year
"You want a bumper that will deflect, a bumper that will crush a little on impact," he says.

Also important are low-set bumpers, which sweep a pedestrian off their feet, rather than forcing their legs under the car.

Some vehicles have stiff metal components, such as towing eyes, right behind the bumper. The solution is to set these back so flesh and bone doesn't hit any hard objects.

Bonnet edges: Although car designers are increasingly opting for rounded silhouettes, external features such as bull bars pose an obvious danger.

Internal rigid structures, such as radiators, placed hard up against the bonnet edge can also cause serious injuries.

Bonnets: The metal used in car bodies isn't generally a problem, Professor Hobbs says, as it is designed to give on impact.

Oxford St 1963
Mind that pedestrian!
But again, it is the underlying parts and structures, such as the engine and the bolts attached to the battery, that can endanger the accident victim.

Professor Hobbs recommends a gap of at least two to three inches between the bonnet and the engine components.

Features such as windscreen wiper spindles also need to be set back, as hitting your head on these can punch a hole in your skull.

"The Rover 2000, which first came out in the 1960s, hid these away, so such safety features are by no means a new innovation."

Crash test dummies

Recent results in the European crash test assessment programme found that while car manufacturers make vehicles reasonably safe for occupants, few provide much protection for pedestrians.

The ETSC says tough new regulations could save up to 2,100 lives across the Europe Union - or 300 in the UK - each year.

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