Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/18

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to the use of frontal protection systems on motor vehicles and amending Council Directive 70/156/EEC’

(COM(2003) 586 final – 2003/0226 (COD))

(2004/C 112/05)

On 22 October 2003, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 10 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Ranocchiari.

At its 407th plenary session (meeting of 31 March), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion.

1.   Introduction


In order to achieve the objective of enhanced road safety, which is a priority for the Community institutions and national authorities alike, measures will have to be introduced progressively in all areas of car manufacturing that can reduce the number of accidents and their effects.


The proposal rightly focuses on protecting the weakest and most vulnerable road users in the case of a collision with a motor vehicle. As stated in the European Road Safety Action Programme, presented recently by the Commission, ‘safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists are a priority for EU action.’


Road accident statistics indicate that a significant proportion of casualties involve pedestrians and cyclists who are injured as a result of contact with a moving vehicle, notably with the frontal structures of passenger cars. The most recent data from CARE (1) provide the following figures for deaths relating to the most vulnerable categories: pedestrians 4,571; cyclists 1,444. Unfortunately, no details of the circumstances of the collision are provided.


It should be remembered that there are two types of injury in this type of collision: those from the ‘primary’ impact of the pedestrian or cyclist with the front of the vehicle, and those from the ‘secondary’ impact with the road surface onto which the pedestrian is often hurled. In any case, it should be noted that it there is no hope of protecting pedestrians if the primary impact occurs at a speed of over 40 km/h. It is, however, possible to reduce levels of injury in primary collisions at this speed, i.e. in heavy urban traffic, where almost half of accidents occur.


The proposal to amend Directive 70/156/EEC (2), which provides the basis for type-approval of vehicles and their trailers in so far as it regulates and harmonises procedures, springs from the commitment made in 2001 by the European, Japanese and Korean car manufacturing associations (the ACEA, JAMA and KAMA respectively) not to install rigid (usually steel) bull bars as original equipment on new vehicles or to sell them as an after market item through their commercial networks. It should be remembered, however, that they were originally designed to improve vehicle safety for professional users (farmers, forestry workers, etc.) in ‘hostile’ areas and/or where animals are present.


The proposal has also become necessary for three reasons:

to harmonise construction provisions, and consequently type-approval provisions, both for finished vehicles with a frontal protection system (or rigid bull bars), and for the system itself as a ‘separate technical unit’;

to act on the call made by the Council on 26 November 2001 for a ban on the use of rigid bull bars on all new M1 and N1 type vehicles;

to respond to the European Parliament request of 13 June 2002 for the Commission to propose legislation to ban the marketing of rigid bull bars, including as after market items.


The proposal aims to establish the technical and construction provisions for frontal protection systems (bull bars) on M1 and N1 type vehicles, i.e. passenger cars and light vans not exceeding a total permissible mass of 3.5 tonnes, and as such is one of the special directives provided for under the type-approval procedure established by Directive 70/156/EEC.


The proposal also ties in with Directive 2003/102/EC of 17 November 2003 (3) relating to the protection of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle. The proposal has become particularly necessary since the latter directive does not contain any specific provisions on frontal protection systems (bull bars).


The Committee has already commented on the above directive in its opinion of 16 July 2003 (4), where it endorsed and supported the Commission's work in the area of pedestrian protection, but pointed out that this should be part of the bigger Community drive to promote road safety, with the accent on the need for a comprehensive prevention policy.


Moreover, the Committee has recently commented on other legislative proposals on road safety (e.g. on restraint systems and safety belts, and on extending the requirement to fit speed limitation devices to almost all vehicles) (5), and on the European Road Safety Action Programme. It reiterated the importance of developing in parallel the three crucial elements for safety: vehicles, infrastructure and user-behaviour.

2.   General comments


The Committee welcomes this new initiative from the Commission, which will help to round off the regulatory framework designed to improve road safety, thereby filling a gap in the legislation.


Whilst the Committee accepts that the initiative is necessary, it feels obliged to express some considerable reservation with regard to the approach adopted by the Commission in drawing up the proposed directive.


Given the accepted dangers posed by rigid frontal protection systems, and the subsequent agreement by car manufacturers not to produce or market them, the Commission has opted for a technical, type-approval solution, insofar as it does not define rigid and non-rigid, but lays down technical/type-approval specifications, compliance with which defines – in practice – safe frontal protection system, i.e. non-rigid.


On the other hand, the current wording of the proposal creates unexpected and probably unsolvable complications for manufacturers, by requiring bull bars to pass different tests from those required for the basic vehicle in the initial implementation phase of Directive 2003/102/EC.


One should not forget all the work carried out thus far in the field of pedestrian safety. This work, starting with the agreement with car-maker associations and followed by the above Directive 2003/102/EC, has made it possible to identify some of the mainstays of state-of- the-art technology in this area and, logically, the proposal should build on these.


Directive 2003/102/EC (Annex I, p1) establishes the ‘frontal surface’ (including frontal protection systems) crash tests for vehicle type-approval. However, under the present proposal the Commission anticipates the adoption of certain technical provisions (Art. 4) specific to bull bar crash tests. These do not correspond to the provisions for the initial phase of the above directive, which was adopted only recently. The Committee fails to see the need for this review:

in terms of pedestrian safety, bull bars should be considered on a par with other frontal devices (bumpers, bonnet, lights, etc.);

tests must be carried out with bull bars fitted to the vehicle or model thereof in order to ensure that each bull bar has in fact been fitted to the vehicle for which it is being tested (either as an integral part or fitted later, following the fitting instructions). This is because the safety of a frontal protection system depends on the way it is fitted to the vehicle and on the space between the system and the bodywork;

hence the need to use the crash tests currently in force, which apply to the whole frontal area of the vehicle. Otherwise one would have to conclude that the Commission is not following up on a recently approved directive.


The Committee therefore believes that the provisions of the proposal must be aligned with those of Directive 2003/102/EC, as detailed below.


Failing this, it would appear reasonable to surmise that bull bar manufacturers will be forced out of business, as they are unable to set up immediately the technical units needed to pass the stringent tests required under the present proposal.

3.   Specific comments

In the light of the above comments, the Committee calls on the Commission:


to monitor the Member States so that checks are always carried out to ensure that the frontal protection system is mounted on the vehicle for which it was granted type-approval, in order to avoid any possible sources of danger.


to reconsider Article 3 of the proposal – The Committee calls for the date (1 July 2005) to be changed to 1 October 2005. As pointed out above, the proposal should be closely aligned with Directive 2003/102/EC.


to reconsider Article 4(1) and Annex I, part 3 of the proposal (test provisions) – the Committee would point out that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to establish detailed technical provisions or timescales that differ from those provided for in the initial implementation phase of Directive 2003/102/EC. Since it is not the frontal protection system itself that must be tested, but the front of the vehicle (incorporating such a system or some other device), it would be inappropriate to have different test arrangements. For example, under the proposal an ‘upper legform’ test is mandatory for vehicle type-approval, whereas under the provisions of Directive 2003/102/EC, this type of test is only carried out for monitoring and data collection purposes.

4.   Conclusions


The Committee hopes that the proposed directive, amended as suggested by the Committee above, will be adopted as soon as possible. The suggestions are intended to refocus the directive on making possible improvements to vehicle frontal protection systems, something which has already been provided for and approved with the recent Directive on the protection of pedestrians.


The Committee is concerned that – failing the adoption of the suggested changes – the result could be a ‘prohibitionary’ type of legislation, with bull bars no longer being produced and perhaps the emergence of a market that is difficult to control.


More generally, the Committee hopes that the Commission will adopt a strategy that clearly defines regulatory priorities and avoids any inconsistency in the declared objectives. In this context, the Committee would point out that the various options should always be selected on the basis of a full-scale impact assessment of the new regulations, in order to take proper account, alongside other factors, of the cost to manufacturers, and consequently of the international competitiveness of European industry.


The Committee would also highlight the need to overhaul the complex legal framework relating to motor vehicles. For passenger car type-approval alone, there are currently 170 directives taking up some 3,500 pages of the Official Journal.


The Committee would also stress the need for the technical aspects of all safety solutions to be assessed thoroughly, by means of broad consultation involving the industry and all stakeholders, in order to identify the most advanced, reliable, effective and cost-efficient solutions.


Finally, the Committee, in accordance with the comments made in point 1.8 above and with a view to improving road safety, calls for ever greater focus to be placed on education and awareness campaigns for pedestrians and cyclists.

Brussels, 31 March 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  Community database on road accidents: collates and processes Member State data on road accidents.

(2)  OJ L 42 of 23.2.1970

(3)  OJ L 321 of 6.12.2003

(4)  Rapporteur: Mr Levaux, OJ C 234 of 30.9.2003

(5)  OJ C 80 of 30.3.2004