LONDON – Proposed new European Union legislation making a range of safety systems in new cars, trucks and other heavy vehicles mandatory from 2012 largely has received a positive response from the automotive industry.

But proposals to cut down on tire noise are proving less popular.

The new guidelines would require all passenger cars from 2012 to have tire-pressure monitoring systems and lower rolling-resistance tires with increased wet grip and a 67% reduction in noise levels.

The European Tire and Rubber Manufacturers Assn. says, “European tire manufacturers believe that too stringent noise specifications, as based on a report prepared by FEHRL (a European body focused on road engineering), would jeopardize vehicle and consumers’ safety.”

Environmentalists have accused the EC of being too soft on the auto industry with the new proposal, which exempts SUV tires.

“The new noise and energy-efficiency standards for tires are unambitious and allow a blanket exemption for Europe’s noisiest and most gas-guzzling sport/utility vehicles,” says Nina Renshaw, policy officer for Transport & Environment, an environmental organization.

Nearly half of all Europeans are regularly exposed to traffic noise levels that are potentially dangerous to health, T&E says in a recent published report.

Noise from rail and road transport is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks annually and 200,000 cases of cardiovascular disease in Europe, the report says.

T&E says half of all vehicle tires sold today already comply with the new proposed noise limits, while 50% of the market already meet the second (final) stage of the proposed regulations.

Besides the new tire proposals, the EC is calling for electronic stability control in all new cars from October 2012. Additionally, new heavy-duty vehicles would be required to have relatively untested advanced-emergency braking systems and lane-departure warning systems fitted from 2013.

ESC will be mandatory in the U.S. from 2012, and Canada and Australia likely will follow suit. Audi AG, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler AG and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. all are making ESC standard equipment on an increasing number of models.

The European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) is a supporter of mandatory ESC systems and backs the ChooseESC! campaign, itself supported by the EC and the European New Car Assessment Program.

“It is unacceptable that so many people get killed on the roads when we have a proven technology available on the market that can save many of these lives each year,” CLEPA President Vassilis Despotopoulos says.

The EC claims emergency braking systems ultimately could prevent about 7,000 deaths and 50,000 serious injuries annually in EU countries. ESC, now available in roughly 45% of new cars, could save 4,000 lives and prevent 100,000 serious accidents annually, the Commission says.

Although safety organizations, such as the U.K. Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and World Health Organization, place emphasis on road engineering and changing driver behavior rather than on new safety technology, other EU institutions clearly are backing “intelligent” vehicle systems.

“European manufacturers increasingly equip their vehicles with safety features, both standard or as an option,” says Ivan Hodac, secretary general for ACEA, the European automobile manufacturers’ association. “Unfortunately, the take-up rate is still disappointing. In many cases, customers prefer comfort or entertainment features instead.”

The U.K.’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says although auto makers increasingly are offering safety technology, consumers require financial incentives, such as a reduction in insurance premiums, to encourage them to opt for these features.

However, this will change once such safety systems are compulsory, the SMMT says, adding those auto makers that have “tried and tested” systems already in place likely will keep their lead in the market for years to come.