/ Motoring

An airbag for pedestrians could be costly for motorists

Car innovations, such as the pedestrian airbag on Volvo’s V40 hatchback, are great news for road safety. But the bad news for motorists is that such complex new safety systems could make cars more costly to own.

Volvo’s innovative new pedestrian airbag system is a world first. Fitted as standard equipment to the new V40 hatchback, it goes further to protect pedestrians than other bonnet offerings, such as the Jaguar XF system.

While others deploy the airbag under the bonnet to lessen the impact for a pedestrian’s head, the V40’s airbag pops out the top of the bonnet and up the car’s A-pillars creating a cushion covering these areas.

The new technology is part of Volvo’s corporate strategy to eliminate injuries in and around its cars by 2020. In the V40 it works alongside an upgraded version of the firm’s City Safety system, which now automatically stops the car at speeds up to 31mph (instead of 19mph) if a collision is imminent.

Between them, these systems aim to wipe out the vast majority of traffic fatalities (14% of road deaths in Europe are pedestrians) and either prevent or lessen the severity of urban shunts.

Who will foot the bill for safety innovations?

While this is all great news for pedestrians, it may not be so good for motorists in the long run for a couple of reasons.

At Which? Car we recently investigated a case where a Jaguar XF bonnet airbag was activated by a very small, light food waste caddy.

During our investigation we came across other cases where XF owners claimed their cars’ airbags had gone off after leaves landed on the bonnet, and in one case when they hadn’t noticed anything touching it at all.

In the case of one Which? member, his insurance company covered the £3k cost of getting his car roadworthy again, but he had to pay the excess and risk the chance of his premiums rising in future.

Rising insurance premiums

That said, the vast majority of car airbags will only go off when they’re supposed to – and protect people in an accident, so of course they are a good thing – and I applaud Volvo for taking the lead in improving road safety.

However, I have two longer-term concerns with airbags: how long will they last, and how much will they cost to replace? Carmakers need to be more up-front about both of these things. After all, if the airbags on a 10-year-old mainstream car need replacing, it’s highly likely the cost will render the car a write-off, even though it may be otherwise mechanically sound.

This smacks of carmakers finding areas where they can build in obsolescence and force motorists to replace cars before they really need to. Worse still are the insurance companies – why aren’t they working with carmakers to offer drivers of safer cars lower premiums, rather than constantly hiking them?

My worry here is that if cars do become more costly to repair because they’re fitted with complex safety equipment, insurers will simply use this as another excuse to raise premiums.


While this system is being refined, it would be a good idea to get rid of the bull bars fitted to some vehicles. I appreciate that new bars must present less of a hazard to pedestrians, but I can see no reason for fitting them to vehicles used on public roads.

Maybe slightly off topic but, unfortunately, I’m yet to be convinced the pedestrian air bag is such “great news”. I’m not even sure a responsible organisation like Which? should be promoting these incidental aids to road safety (other than to question the cost-of-ownership). It seems more likely it will give the uneducated motorist a false sense of security, than save a pedestrian’s life in practice.

The pure cynic (and physicist) in me says this is just another expensive device to enable the wealthier motorist to buy off some of the guilt for their antisocial behaviour, whilst coincidentally increasing motor industry profits. “Sure, I sometimes drive at 40mph in a 20mph zone, but it’s now OK, ‘cos I’ve got a pedestrian airbag fitted! If the little blighters run out of the school gates into my path, why, they’ll just bounce off the bonnet and out of harm’s way. Everyone’s a winner!”

If you don’t recognise the guilt-driven market segment I’m taking about, they are the same group that buy a Toyota Prius, then use it to hammer up the fast lane of the Motorway, burning more fuel than an efficient Diesel 4×4 could ever use by cruising within the legal limit. I know about this; I’ve had a Prius on-long-term loan and it is not fuel-efficient at speeds above 60 mph, so who do these motorist think they are kidding?

Technology is only beneficial in the hands of the responsible motorist, and responsible motorists do not always need the technology.

Fair comments, though I think we do deserve to know how car manufacturers waste their time and our money on poorly thought out designs.

Car manufacturers could usefully get together and develop a non-pneumatic tyre that could not blow out, would be puncture proof and cost no more to replace than a conventional tyre. After all, they are doing their best to get rid of the full-size spare wheel.

Something like the Michelin Tweel? Don’t know what is holding back development of this appoach, but they are working on it.

There are practical problems to be resolved but hopefully this type of airless wheel/tyre will be the way forward.

The idea is only sane if you really believe that at no stage will it become amusing to set-off these devices. After all it is easier to do this rather than base-jumping, or writing graffitti on viaducts with the added benefit you can easily keep score and get your mates to YouTube it.

I am amazed that no-one has thought this idea properly – sorry I should be amazed however there are many items that get into production without anyone really thinking of the consequences. Of course some firms do and do not care as profit and image are involved.

It is truly a magnificently stupid concept. In 2010 there 405 pedestrian road deaths and out of that total it would be difficult how many might be saved by this airbag.

You are right dieseltaylor. Cars are enough of a target for vandals.

As someone might point out, that is 405 deaths too many and not doubt there are more who are injured by vehicles.

I suspect that it might be better to spend money on keeping pedestrians, cyclists and cars separate, especially where there have been accidents. That is unlikely to be funded by car manufacturers, so perhaps they could devise a GPS-controlled system that prevents cars exceeding the speed limit.

Phil says:
2 June 2012

In addition to the 405 killed there another 5,000 or so are seriously injured. Whilst the definition of seriously injured is open to question some of these people will have sustained life changing injuries to use the modern idiom. Brain damage, paralysis, lost limbs and so forth requiring a life time of care.

That said I’m not convinced passenger airbags will work every time due to the high number of variables, if they can save a small child hit head on will they work with a six foot plus 22 stone man hit at an oblique angle?

“This smacks of carmakers finding areas where they can build in obsolescence and force motorists to replace cars before they really need to. Worse still are the insurance companies – why aren’t they working with carmakers to offer drivers of safer cars lower premiums, rather than constantly hiking them?”
Hits the nail on the head really…..

What I can’t understand is that with massive hunks of metal driving past pedestrians (at whatever speed, with no railings) road deaths of pedestrians are inevitable.

Save from putting railings along all road junctions, any else is a surreptitious attempt by car makers to get us to spend more. Auto drive will be another one, we can’t all afford it so it cannot be made legislation.

This is similar to railways, think of all the railway platforms that have people standing on them when trains hurtle past at about 125mph. Surely some deaths are inevitable?

I own a Jaguar XFR and have had the pedestrian protection deploy twice in 9 months. the first time i went over a speed hump at approx 20mph – i apparently scrapped the bottom of the front spoiler on the speed hump. The repair cost was £4500, which my insurance company thankfully paid, although it ruined by 20+ year no claim history. The second time i was just driving down a country lane (no pot holes or speed humps and was driving at 26mph (i know because the data from Jaguar told me). this time its £5500 plus £650 because i wanted Jaguar to investigate the control module. 3 months on i am still arguing with Jaguar about this, but all they say is that is is a valid deployment, so not their problem. I wont bore you with some of the ridiculous statements they have come out with, but i am currently writing to the CEO. Note to EM above about driving at 40mph. The system only operates between approx 12 and 28mph

Have new Jaguar F or XE read this and worry.
Driving down a quite country lane a small deer ran out in front of my XE and stopped in the road about 150ft away, traveling at 40-45mpg I applied emergency stop to the brakes. As soon as I did, loud bang and cracking noise, and bonnet shot up 6 inches window end, wife and I thought at first must have hit the animal.
Got out of car, deer running into bushes 25ft away, no damage of any kind to front of car, had not hit anything! What had happened when I braked was the Pedestrian Protection System had operated, supposed to when a car hits a person, a detector in front of car fires off bonnet activators raising the bonnet to provide softy landing for the person, and front of car designed to soft collapse to protect persons legs!
Jaguar Dealer does not agree its warranty work for faulty operation of the safety system, because small scratch to metal under car that protects engine proves I hit something, I asked if scratch timed and dated and what part of said animal scratches metal that had ran away.
Therefore I have to pay for damage to hinges done by PP System and new activators, said lucky bonnet not wrecked. Bill £1500 could have been £4000 if bonnet wrecked. Couldn’t claim on insurance as no accident!

To Clive Mitchell .Manager Guy Salmon Npton.

The Faulty Operation of my Cars KT15TXE Pedestrian Protection System.

Please regard this letter as a formal complaint under provisions of The Consumer Protection Act 2015.
For the record after applying my car brakes in an emergency stop to avoid hitting an animal in the road the PP System fired the bonnet activators off damaging the bonnet hinges. I did not hit the animal or anything else. The system should operate when a detector in the front bumper comes into hard contact with a pedestrian or may be a large animal. What I avoided was a small deer or dog.
The condition of my front bumper is how it left your showroom 7 months ago. Your Service staff agree there is no damage to the front bumper, but think my hard breaking is the cause.
However Lee Mayne refuses to regard the operation of the PP system as a warranty fault because he has no proof it is, yet agrees breaking hard looks like the cause, so it has to be a faulty system. Is your company saying emergency stops not allowed in a XE?
On the 21/10/2016 after having the car since 10/10/2016 your James Wright rang and told me the good news that car was ready to deliver after we paid the Bill of £566, a reduction of £900 on the estimate valid until now!
We paid under duress and protest because we could not have the car back if we did not.
I have now spoken to Trading Standards at National level and expect a meeting next week with local officers who will pursue the case nationally and locally as like me they consider this a serous defect that could cause a fatal accident. They said my car should be fit for purpose and quality, and as described, eg System operates on contact with Pedestrian.
For the record the car was delivered on Friday afternoon with no receipt or bill, I rang James and asked he post and E-mail neither has happened. Jaguar Complaints were to contact me on Friday as arranged they did not.
You market yourselves as a company that prides itself on customer care, in what way does the above meet that standard , I loved this car , now that’s spoilt by your disgraceful treatment of my wife and i. It happened when we took a holiday to prepare us for unpleasant operations we have had since the event, and while you dealt with car. Stress this has caused is beyond imagination!
So thanks for nothing. I hope the Trading Standards prosecute your Company under the above act for the way you have treated us to date. I will be taking this further when I recover from my recent operation!

John Wright