The future of road safety
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 by Scott Coles
For as long as road travel has existed, so too have road accidents.
Consequently, actions have been taken to improve safety and reduce the risk of a road injury or fatality. Could autonomous vehicles be the largest impact on car safety we have ever seen? It looks likely.
Road safety has been continuously evolving. From road signs and indicators to seatbelts and traffic lights, the end goal has always been to improve safety. We recently published a blog post that takes a look back through the history of road safety; now, it’s only appropriate to look towards the future of road safety.
Technology is pivotal
We can’t look to the future without looking at technology.
Technology will have a pivotal impact on the future of road safety. In fact, technology is already integrated into current passenger vehicles:
Intelligent traffic systems
We’ve also experienced sensors under the roads that can monitor traffic flow and alter how quickly traffic lights change.
GPS traffic alerts
Getting to our destination in the fastest way possible has also become a valuable tool in our smartphones, which can display real-time traffic alerts to warn us of heavy traffic along our usual routes.
The future of road safety
The two pillars crucial to the development and future of road safety are autonomous vehicles and roadside drowsiness testing.
1) Autonomous vehicles
Autonomous vehicles are currently being designed and tested by a few major manufacturers, most notably Tesla and Google. The goal of autonomous vehicles is to reduce the following road risks, hazards and pitfalls:
Human error is the main cause of road accidents today. If and when we reach a point where the majority of the cars on our roads are autonomous, the human factor will dwindle to almost zero.
Keep traffic flowing
One of the main causes of those unexplained back-ups in traffic is over-braking.
Auckland Transport shared the below video to their Facebook page showing how impatient drivers who follow too closely end up breaking suddenly and more frequently, causing a ripple effect for all the cars behind. This causes traffic flow to slow to an almost complete stop.
Drivers who cannot properly control a car at a consistent speed also cause the “ripple” effect.
Autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, would maintain a steady speed that would eliminate the stop-start nature. By removing the emotional attachment of driving, from drivers, we eliminate road rage, tailgaters and more frequent and unnecessary braking.
Drowsy drivers are no longer a risk
Depending on the level of automation of a vehicle, driver dependency in the future could be reduced to zero. (View the five levels of autonomous vehicles in this blog post)
Of course, in autonomous vehicles classified at a lower level of automation, an alert and vigilant driver is still required should software fail.
For now, though, autonomous vehicles still require at least one participant in the car who will remain alert. The next question raised here is who is monitoring the driver?
Safer road decisions
Autonomous vehicles will be able to safely navigate their way around a corner, up a driveway, and through roundabouts.
Gradual acceleration from all autonomous vehicles on the road, combined with speed control improves traffic flow.
Most importantly, braking
Should an obstacle present itself, think a wayward pedestrian or cyclist, the autonomous vehicle will be able to accurately detect the obstacle and apply the brakes in order to decrease the risk of a collision (or the severity of a collision).
2) Drowsy driving recognised as dangerous as drink driving
Research shows that being awake for more than 17 hours can have the same impact on concentration and reaction times as a driver who has a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05.
So if the effect and risk is comparable between someone who has gone more than 17 hours without sleep and someone who has enjoyed a few too many drinks on a Friday night, why isn’t testing the same, too?
Recently, Victoria Police and the Traffic Accident Commission (TAC) announced that they wanted to start roadside testing for drowsiness. We examined what roadside fatigue testing could look like in this blog post, and addressed some challenges raised.
Technology is the pivotal component in the future of road safety, while the speedy growth and development of autonomous vehicles has put them at centre stage.