A carmakers’ voluntary agreement on introducing technical changes in designs boosting cyclist and pedestrian safety has been approved by the European Parliament and will now be legally underpinned by a so-called Framework Directive enforcing a range of legal commitments. But many argue that the move is all but worthless.

From 2005, cars will be less dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists (but not by much)

Under last year’s voluntary agreement, European carmakers, (along with those from Japan and South Korea), agreed to create standards reducing accident head and leg impacts relating to the front chassis and window area of vehicles. The measures will apply to 80 per cent of new cars from 2005 and all new cars from 2010.

Some MEPs were insisting on EU-wide legislation, calling for a full and detailed Directive that would force European carmakers to abide by strict rules on cyclist and pedestrian protection. However, a compromise was reached when the Parliament voted to accept the voluntary agreement, as long as the European Commission agreed to draft a Framework Directive to give the deal some legal backing.

A spokesman for the European Parliament said the Framework Directive would have the same legal clout as a fully-blown Directive but would be "light" on detail to allow for flexibility. Framework Directives usually make general statements of intent as opposed to specific rules. As with all directives, the governments of EU Member States will have to follow up with national broadly reflecting its provisions.

At this stage it is unclear exactly what the Framework Directive will say, although the European Commission has promised a draft by the end of the year. The EP spokesman said he hoped that it would generally follow the European Automobile Manufacturers Association’s voluntary agreement, which includes a ban on the supply and fitting of bull bars.

Figures from the Swedish Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV), gathered as part of the EU pedestrian safety programme, have revealed that each year the deaths of 80 cyclists across Europe would be avoided if carmakers made certain design improvements. A further 4,500 would avoid serious injury.

However, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is sceptical of the European Parliament decision.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at RoSPA said: "We are disappointed that there won’t be a proper Directive. We don’t think a voluntary agreement will save the same number of lives. The European Parliament has missed an easy opportunity to prevent road deaths and injuries."

By Jonathon Thomson.

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