Airbags fitted to the outside of cars could save the lives of 350 cyclists in the European Union annually, according to a recent study from the Netherlands. The report was presented by the Dutch equivalent of the Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC), Fietsersbond, to Members of the European Parliament.
One of the Fietserbond’s main demands arising from the study was that EURO NCAP, a European institution carrying out car crash tests, should extend those tests to cyclists - currently EURO NCAP’s crash tests are limited to pedestrians only.
Tests on pedestrians alone were inapplicable to cyclists, the study found. The report demonstrated that cyclists hit the car bonnet (hood) or windscreen (windshield) higher than pedestrians, leading to more severe head injuries, as compared to more common leg injuries on pedestrians.
It was estimated exterior airbags currently under development could reduce accident fatalities by 75 percent. Other key findings from the report, entitled Bicycle Safety in Bicycle-Car Accidents, put together by the Dutch testing and standards organization TNO, were as follows:
1. The most dominant injuries occurring in bicycle to car accidents were head injuries and, not surprisingly, the ones that most often lead to fatalties. Lower leg injuries tended to be the most severe non-life threatening injuries.
2. Car geometry factors such as bonnet length or bonnet – windscreen angle have no influence on obtained injuries.
3. The speed of the car at time of impact is the most important variable with respect to injuries obtained. Therefore, the most effective way to reduce cyclist injuries is to make sure cars do not drive faster than allowed.
4. Integrated safety systems such as brake assists and autonomous braking are not only effective for pedestrian safety but also for cyclist safety. Current regulations for pedestrian safety are less effective for cyclists.
5. Exterior airbags such as those under development by Autoliv were shown to be very effective for cyclists as well as for pedestrians, showing a huge potential to reduce severe head injuries. Special attention though will have to be paid to the impact location of a cyclists’ head as it hits much higher than a pedestrian’s head. Cyclists suffered more injuries on car roof pillars and car roofs than pedestrians.