IT in cars will reduce road fatalities

The use of new in-car safety technology and ‘connected vehicles’ will dramatically reduce road-related injuries and fatalities, experts argue

ICT will have a major role to play in reducing the number of road fatalities during the next 10 years, according to motoring researchers and academics.

According to Dr Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the US government had taken particular interest in the potential for radar-based collision warning systems and driver attention and drowsiness monitoring.

“These [technologies] are rapidly moving into a semi-automated state, if you will, where the vehicle can help the driver either avoid or mitigate a crash through automated braking, stability control, even in some cases … the vehicle will help you steer to avoid an obstacle.,” he said.

“These [technologies] start out in higher end cars due to the cost of the systems but they are moving very quickly [to become more affordable.”

Dingus said new technologies were being developed in the US, and other countries, which facilitated ‘connected vehicles’ – cars which could communicate with each other and road infrastructure via short-range radio.

“For example, if they have GPS and they are talking to the same satellite they know very accurately where they are relative to one another. What that means is that if they are about change lanes and there is a car in the drivers’ blind spot then they will get an alert from the system.

“The US government is excited about this as it now comes in a $100 radio rather than a $1000 radar, so you can all kinds of safety applications built around connected vehicles – everything from alerts about traffic ahead or slippery roads or crashes or speed or over-height warnings for trucks – all of this would be displayed into the vehicle cabin.”

Lauchlan McIntosh, president of the Australasian College of Road Safety and chairman of Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), also stressed the issue of price, stating safety technologies were no longer restricted to luxury vehicles.

“Subaru are bringing in a stereoscopic camera to help in collision avoidance, Ford’s Mondeos sold in Australia today have blind spot and lane departure warnings, driver fatigues alerts and adaptive cruise control; and that’s why it gets a five star safety rating,” he said.

“Cars sold at around $50,000 have pre-crash speed reduction. These things are no longer at the top end of the market – they are happening [in the wider market] – and happening in Australia.”

According to McIntosh more than 30,000 people were injured in road-related accidents in Australia every year. In his estimation, the role of safer cars would in themselves make a 50 per cent reduction in the number of road fatalities within the next decade.

Banning mobile device use while driving

According to Dingus, legislation banning the use of mobile devices while driving could make a substantial reduction in road fatalities and injuries. However, Dr Bruce Corben, Senior Research Fellow, Accident Research Centre, Monash University, said achieving such a ban would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

In addition, issues to do with driver distraction other than that caused by mobile devices, needed to be focused upon.

“The approach we have been taking has been to say that human behaviour is such that people will be distracted — be it technology, conversations, other things they may be doing in the car — so we need to accommodate that kind of behaviour and make the roads more forgiving,” he said.

McIntosh said that rather than ban mobile device use, newer car safety technologies needed to be encouraged and adopted more quickly. People also needed to be educated to the fact that driving was an important task and paying attention while driving mattered.

Dingus, Corben and McIntosh were all speaking in Melbourne for the A safe system: making it happen! (PDF) conference run by the Australian College of Road Safety.

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