64 road deaths and 650 injuries 'could be prevented'

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Media captionRichard Scott tests the technology that could help prevent accidents

Sixty-four road deaths a year could be prevented if all cars were fitted with the latest safety equipment, a study has claimed.

Motor research organisation Thatcham analysed accidents going back a decade in what it said was the biggest study of its kind.

It concluded 270,000 crashes a year could be prevented if cars had "autonomous emergency braking".

The technology is only available as optional extras on cars at the moment.

In 2009 there were a total of 2,381,000 accidents in the UK, which means the study suggests that the safety equipment could prevent 10% of them.

Some 2,222 people were killed in road accidents in Great Britain in 2009.

About a quarter of all crashes involve running into the back of the car in front at less than 30mph.

Image caption Safety experts hope "autonomous emergency braking" will become standard

The technology to prevent those sort of crashes was developed a few years ago, but it is only now it is beginning to appear on mass market cars.

Ford is offering one such system on its Focus. It uses lasers to scan up to six metres in front of the car and if the driver is about to hit another vehicle at up to 30mph it brakes automatically, either avoiding or mitigating the impact.

There are more advanced systems - using radar - which can see further ahead and work at higher speeds. But they cost more money and are only available on higher-end cars.

Technology developments such as airbags and anti-lock braking systems (ABS) mean the risk of driving is about 40% less than it was a decade ago.

Pedestrian safety

But there has not been anything like the same improvement in pedestrian safety.

However, just as technology is providing the opportunity to avoid the rear-end shunt, it can also help pedestrians.

These systems need at least one camera with pattern-recognition software so it can recognise people and tell the them apart from animals.

They also have to be sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between pedestrians who are waiting on the roadside and those about to walk out.

Image caption Seatbelts, which became mandatory in 1983, have cut car crash fatalities

But they too can stop the car automatically if a pedestrian appears in front.

The biggest study of its kind, looking at accidents going back ten years, has analysed how many could be prevented if every car had these systems.

It is concluded 64 deaths on Britain's roads would be prevented each year, as well as more than 650 serious injuries.

In total 270,000 crashes together with 160,000 whiplash injuries could be avoided on our roads each year.

Burden on NHS

Having the systems fitted could - once insurers have enough data - also mean lower insurance premiums, as well as reducing the burden on the NHS.

"Most are optional extras at the moment, but they are modestly priced," said Matthew Avery, Thatcham's research manager.

He said: "They're normally the price of a stereo or sat-nav upgrade, but we hope manufacturers will begin to fit them as standard as they become more popular."

That seems to be the way the industry is going.

Later this year "electronic stability control" (skid prevention) will become a legal requirement on all new models.