Vehicle Safety



This text on vehicle safety, reviews the scientific studies on the magnitude and nature of the safety problem, the contributing accident factors, and the effectiveness of countermeasures.

For information on the development of casualty frequencies and accident circumstances over the period 1996-2005 per European country, please consult the Basic Fact Sheet Pedestrians, the Basic Fact Sheet Bicycles, the Basic Fact Sheet Motorcycles and Mopeds, the Basic Fact Sheet Car Occupants and the Basic Fact Sheet Heavy Goods Vehicles & Buses on the Data section of the website.

Vehicle design and road safety

Improving vehicle safety is a key strategy used in addressing international and national road casualty reduction targets and in achieving a safer road traffic system. Vehicle safety addresses the safety of all road users and currently comprises measures to help avoid a crash (crash avoidance) or reduce injury in the event of a crash (crash protection). Substantial and evidence-based improvements have been made in the last 15 years and research has identified large scope for enhancing vehicle safety further. The European Commission has stated that If all cars were designed to provide crash protection equivalent to that of the best cars in their class, half of all fatal and disabling injuries could be avoided. There is large future promise of casualty reduction from crash avoidance and active safety technologies if technology development is prioritised to give maximum casualty reduction.

Vehicle safety policy

Improvements to vehicle safety results from legislation (much of which is now agreed in the European Union and internationally) consumer information, the initiatives of individual manufacturers and product liability considerations. EU legislation aims for a minimum but high level of protection across the product line; consumer information aims to encourage the highest possible levels of safety; and car industry policies increasingly promote safety as a marketable commodity. Countries active in safety engage in international legislative development work; carry out national research and monitoring of vehicle safety; support the European New Car Assessment Programme; ensure that helmet and restraint usage laws are properly enforced and encourage local car industry to fast track key safety measures

Key issues for vehicle safety design

  • Addressing human limitations: Evidence-based vehicle safety measures need to address human limitations to prevent crashes and reduce injury severity in the event of a crash.
  • Car occupants: Car occupants comprise 56% of total EU (15) road traffic deaths. Car to car collisions are the most common crash type with frontal impacts followed by side impacts being most common in fatal and serious crashes. Different factors influence crash severity.
  • Pedestrians: The survival of pedestrians in traffic depends upon their separation from thehigh speeds of motor vehicles or, where shared use is common – ensuring that the vehicle impact speed is low enough to prevent severe injury on impact and providing safer car fronts.
  • Motorized two-wheeler users sustain multiple injuries in crashes to the head, chest and legs. The majority of fatal injuries are to the head, despite helmet use. Lower-leg injuries result either from direct contact with the impacting vehicle or as a result of being crushed between the bike and the ground. A car is involved in most crashes.
  • Cyclists comprise around 5% of road user deaths across EU countries, but as much as 18% in countries where there is a lot of cycling e.g. the Netherlands. Single vehicle crashes are most common. Head injuries are the major cause of death in around 75% of cyclist deaths.
  • Minibus and bus occupant injury is a smaller but also a treatable vehicle safety problem.
  • Cost benefits and cost-effectiveness: Socio-economic appraisal of vehicle safety measures ensure that reasonable benefits can be derived from new costs. New safety design costs less at the new car design stage than during subsequent stages of production.

Safety design needs

A range of crash avoidance and crash protection measures is outlined for the protection of cars occupants, pedestrians, motorcyclists, minibus and bus users

Knowledge gaps

Effective vehicle safety design result relies upon continuing research and development, understanding of the source and mechanism of injury’ protection in a range of crash conditions, regular monitoring of performance in real world conditions, and confirmation that new technologies are used and accepted. A range of research needs is outlined.


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