Fleets urged to operate AEB-equipped only vehicles as deaths and injuries on UK roads rise

Fleets managers and company car drivers – as well as private motorists – have been urged to insist on Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) being fitted on their next new vehicle, a feature it is claimed could save hundreds of lives and reduce crash injuries on the UK’s roads.

AEB systems – billed by insurance experts as “probably the most significant development in car safety since the seat belt” – take into account traffic conditions to apply a vehicle’s brakes if a driver fails to respond to what is happening on the road thereby avoid an impending crash with another vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist.

A coalition of road safety partners including experts on car and road design, fleet operations, driving for work, driver training and human behaviour has joined forces to press the case to influence a switch to AEB-only vehicles.

Meanwhile, calls to encourage company car drivers to select safety options for their vehicles that reduce the risk of road traffic accidents through tax-related incentives are, it is understood, being considered.

It is widely believed that safety options such as AEB are not selected by drivers because they increase company car benefit-in-kind tax bills. However, it is understood that with HM Treasury officials currently looking to review benefit-in-kind tax rates beyond 2021 “a road safety element could be introduced” that could see such options ignored for tax purposes.

Figures from Thatcham Research, the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, suggest that AEB is still not available at all on around half of all new cars on sale in the UK and, chief executive Peter Shaw, says the best-selling models should be setting an example to change that trend.

Thatcham Research has previously singled out for praise the Mercedes C-Class, which has AEB as standard across its range, whilst the Volkswagen Golf and the Nissan Qashqai also had what it called “commendable levels” of standard fitment and optional availability on most other trim levels. However, smaller cars, such as superminis, invariably do not have AEB fitted as standard and often the technology is not available as an option.

Earlier this year Thatcham Research singled out Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles for praise following its decision to fit AEB as standard on all UK vans from June 1. The move made the German brand the first commercial vehicle brand to fit all its vans (Caddy, Transporter and Crafter) with AEB systems (Front Assist with City Emergency Braking).

Not only does AEB have the potential to reduce the number and severity of accidents, it has also been proven to cut third party injury insurance claims by 45%. For fleet operators and van drivers, that can translate into lower costs as well as less downtime thanks to fewer crashes and therefore company cars and vans being kept on the road – and working – for longer. In addition, Thatcham Research suggests that vehicles fitted with AEB have an average insurance premium reduction of 10% compared to those which don’t.

The coalition, which includes organisations such as IAM RoadSmart and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association as well as Thatcham Research, estimates that pedestrian and cyclist-sensing AEB systems could potentially save 1,100 lives and 122,860 casualties in the UK over the next 10 years.

What’s more, Thatcham Research calculates that if more car buyers insisted on AEB systems being fitted to vehicles the technology could deliver an extra saving of 308 fewer deaths and serious injuries by 2025 and save society £138 million.

The AEB call came as government data revealed that the the number of people killed in road traffic collisions last year was 1,792, up 4% since 2015 (1,730) and the highest annual total since 2011. Additionally, 24,101 people were seriously injured last year – a rise of 9% (from 22,144 in 2015) – which was in part attributed by the Department for Transport to changes in the way many police forces reported collision data.

A total of 181,384 people were killed or injured in total on Britain’s roads last year, which was 3% lower than in 2015 (186,189) and the lowest level of record. The overall reduction was against a 12-month 2.2% increase in traffic volumes.

Nevertheless, the rise in the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads prompted calls from safety campaigners for renewed action to drive down casualty rates including the promotion of best practice in driving for work.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “Road safety is everyone’s responsibility and it is clear that working in partnership to promote it is the key to returning to long term downward trends. Accelerating the uptake of AEB-equipped cars and promoting best practice in driving for work are just two examples where quick gains could be made.”

Commenting on the demand for fleets, company car drivers and private motorists to ensure future vehicles were equipped with AEB, Sarah Sillars, chief executive officer of IAM RoadSmart, said: “Road safety is a shared responsibility and if individuals and fleets ensure their new cars are fitted with AEB we can all make a contribution to safer roads for vulnerable users now.”

Peter Shaw, CEO of Thatcham Research said: “There’s an urgent need to change the consumer and fleet mind-set around car safety. Especially when AEB can cost as little as £200. Safety should be a deal-breaker, not a nice to have. If it doesn’t have AEB, it shouldn’t be a sale.”

And BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said: “If the combined buying power of fleets and government procurement can be harnessed to adopt AEB it could deliver substantial accident savings very soon.”

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