DETROIT – Harmonization of automotive crash standards worldwide, while elusive to date, is possible, says Priya Prasad, head of safety for Ford Motor Co.

It has taken a decade just to harmonize some U.S. standards, and little progress has been made internationally during Prasad’s 33-year career. International dialogue is slow and occurs only in a few forums, not all of which produce binding agreements.

But Prasad remains optimistic in a presentation at the Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference here.

“We should take all regulators and interested parties and lock them up for three weeks and they should be able to come up with some international standards,” he says.

“Once you put out a safety technology, you know it will be regulated,” he says, pointing to pending U.S. legislation that will require all vehicles to have electronic stability control by 2010.

The hope is the standard will apply globally.

The reality is there is great disparity to date.

Not only do safety requirements differ regionally, there can be more than one set of rules within a country, Prasad says.

Crash-test criteria differs in the U.S., for example, between government regulators, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and New Car Assessment Programs (NCAPs) – with auto makers trying to design vehicles to jump through each set of hoops.

When it comes to frontal impacts, the U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia have common full-frontal barrier tests, but not Europe, Prasad says.

Vehicles in the U.S. also must be designed to pass offset tests and undergo angular-barrier tests not used anywhere outside the country. Similarly, the U.S. is alone in requiring tests with unbelted dummies.

To harmonize, some regions would have to add to their regulations; some would have to delete, Prasad says.

“Europe would need to add full frontal barrier tests. The U.S. would delete angular,” he says. All would have to adopt new dummies, and all would have to conduct unbelted tests unless the U.S. dropped the controversial requirement and went back to generic sled testing.

Additionally, all regions would have to adopt standard NCAPs, he says.

On side-impact regulations, U.S. requirements differ from those used by the country’s IIHS, which in turn is the same as testing in Europe and Australia – but differ from those used in Japan.

On a more positive note, Prasad says while testing criteria literally is all over the map, progress is being made on adopting a universal dummy to measure side impact crashworthiness. He expects an announcement soon that the U.S. will use the same procedures and dummies employed elsewhere in the world.

“Worldwide application of a WorldSID side-impact dummy looks promising,” he says.

Adding the Tier 1 supplier perspective, Colm Boran of Autoliv Inc. says there is a need for regulations with the proliferation of technology, including restraint systems that Autoliv specializes in.

But he cautions that the need to protect occupants in high-severity accidents forces design of components such as sensors to respond to circumstances that occur infrequently, which may make them less effective in more common lower-speed collisions.

It can be like “building an overly sensitive fire alarm,” he says. Boran describes testing of an airbag system in a police cruiser that hit potholes in Detroit that would have triggered airbag deployment if the sensors had been set to deploy early enough to protect in a high-speed impact.

Boran also questions the wisdom of designing cars to protect unbelted occupants when 79% currently are buckling up, noting it makes a big difference in how a vehicle’s restraint systems are designed.

He says he hopes the pending stability-control regulations are not set for the 1% most-severe occurrences, advocating a balanced approach to rule making and safety ratings.

apriddle@wardsauto.com