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Don’t risk lives with free trade deals, warns road safety group

The UK must not bow to pressure to accept lower vehicle safety standards as it negotiates Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the United States and Australia, according to a prominent road safety steering group. Larger, heavier vehicles with inferior crash protection fall well below the permitted standards in the UK, and present a greater danger to pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and occupants of smaller cars. This is the stark warning set out in a letter and briefing paper sent to the Rt Hon Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade by PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

PACTS recognises that in negotiations covering food safety the USA has argued against accepting the higher UK standards for food contamination and animal welfare – characterising it as “protectionism” and saying that the consumer should decide.

PACTS points out that the road network and vehicle fleet in the USA are very different to those in the UK: SUVs and light pick-up trucks form the majority of private vehicles. US vehicle safety standards are much lower than those permitted for vehicles sold in the UK. It warns that such vehicles have poorer front and side impact protection and almost none of the pedestrian protection standards adopted here and would have severe implications for UK road users, increasing casualties and deterring walking and cycling.

David Davies, Executive Director of PACTS (pictured below), said “The UK has been at the forefront of vehicle safety standards over past decades and is set to adopt even higher standards to protect pedestrians and cyclists from 2022. These do not apply in the US which has a very poor road safety record, particularly for pedestrians.

“The UK public has already made clear its objection to chlorinated chicken. If the government wants to see the increase in walking and cycling that it has advocated we must not import hormone-fed vehicles.

“The UK has a relatively good road safety record. Improved vehicle safety standards, often based on UK research and development, have been a major factor in achieving this. By contrast, the USA has, for an advanced industrialised country, a poor record that is getting worse. Their path in vehicle safety is not one we should follow. Nor should it be left to consumer choice – this does not work,” he adds.

In its letter, PACTS urges that no vehicle is imported to the UK without recently agreed EU vehicle safety standards that will be mandated from 2022. It also calls for a mutual recognition process for car safety standards focusing directly on comparisons with prescribed crash protection standards which affect the structure of vehicles and injury mitigation in the event of a collision, as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to prevent collisions.

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