UK pedestrians must not become the “chlorinated chickens” in automotive free trade deals say The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS).
Safety experts are urging the UK government to exclude American cars from any post-Brexit trade deal. They say imported vehicles should meet British safety standards for accidents with pedestrians, cyclists and children.
UK PM Boris Johnson has indicated he expects cars to be included in any new transatlantic trade agreement. But safety campaigners point to a spike of pedestrian injuries and deaths in US road accidents. The increase is associated with a boom in large SUVs, which have been engineered to protect passengers but not pedestrians.
In the UK and Europe, cars are designed to minimise harm to people on foot or on bikes if they are hit by a vehicle. SUVs sold in the UK must meet the standards.
PACTS has written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Rt hon Liz Truss MP, urging her to commit to upholding fully UK vehicle safety standards in any future international trade deals and not permitting imports to the UK of vehicles which do not fully meet our standards.
PACTS has expressed concern that other governments will put pressure on the UK to accept lower safety standards, particularly in a deal with the US where negotiations seem to be most advanced. This would be detrimental not only for the safety of drivers and passengers in such vehicles, but also to pedestrians, cyclists and occupants of smaller vehicles.
Meet our standards
In a report by the BBC, David Ward, president of the Global New Car Assessment Programme, said: “US crash standards are much lower for pedestrians... we simply can’t let American vehicles into the UK if they don’t meet our standards.”
The head of the UK Transport Research Laboratory, Richard Cuerden, told the BBC: “We know the PM and others have said the automotive sector is on the cards for a new trade deal after Brexit. Well, it’s fine to trade – but they have to meet our rules in this regard.”
He warns that many of the UK’s crash barriers were designed to resist a car of standard weight and height. If British drivers started to buy large US-style SUVs in big numbers, the barriers might have to be replaced.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman told the BBC that the government would decide its own safety regulations after Brexit. “Road safety or environmental standards will not be diminished as part of a free trade agreement with the USA or any other country,” she said.
But safety campaigners note that, on the parallel issue of whether to allow imports of chlorinated chicken from the US, ministers are under relentless pressure to give way.
David Davies, Executive Director of PACTS, said: “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.
US President Donald Trump has previously derided safety standards for pedestrians - although the White House later said he was joking.
Big SUVs are the focus of concern among US experts, too. A study from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said while the number of people killed in road crashes had fallen overall, the number of pedestrians killed by vehicles had risen by 53% over a decade.