VSR 2023
Road Safety Report 2023

Technology and People

Technology and People: A Balancing Act

There is almost no area of our modern lives that has not been influenced by the trends of digitalization and automation. The world of mobility is no exception, as both are playing an increasing role here as well. Everyone is talking about terms such as “highly automated driving” or “autonomous driving,” and these concepts are purportedly the silver bullet we have been waiting for to solve fundamental traffic problems. The purpose of this report is to detail the challenges associated with these developments and set out the role that people play in this context.

“We hurtled away without anyone holding the steering wheel, whipped around corners, dodged around other equally fine vehicles, but nobody honked their horn. […] Instead of a steering wheel, I discovered a metal plate into which an intricate but clear map of the city had been etched. A pointer working with pinpoint accuracy was positioned above it. I’d barely moved it at all before the vehicle started up and shot down streets I didn’t know. It stopped just as suddenly. […] The best thing was that the vehicle dodged out of the way of others, suddenly stopped in front of busy intersections, let other cars pass, and behaved as if it knew the ins and outs of every conceivable traffic rule.”
These lines, translated freely here, are taken from a science fiction novel called “Utopolis” written by Werner Illing in 1930. When you read them, it’s hard to believe how all those years ago, the German author managed to accurately predict the types of things that vehicle manufacturers are now focusing heavily on. In fact, in the course of his novel, he also touched on the topic of connectivity when he described how the “mysterious self-steering cars” worked. At the front of every vehicle was “a small prism eye” that acted on light-sensitive electric cells and communicated with electric eyes that had been “discreetly recessed into the walls of the houses.” “These mechanical eyes regulate the speed and steering using alternating mirror reflections.”
93 years later, in an era where road traffic is becoming increasingly digitalized, our society finds itself on the cusp of arguably the biggest revolution in mobility since the invention of the car. Software and electronics are taking over more and more tasks from drivers, turning cars into rolling high-tech machines. All renowned volume manufacturers now offer assisted and semi-automated driving, with the number of vehicles equipped with automated driving features set to increase markedly in the coming years.

A General Openness to New Technologies

However, what do people actually think about automated driving, for example in Germany? How would car drivers behave when encountering these types of vehicle? Do they fundamentally trust the safety of automated driving functions and driver assistance systems? Are there currently problems with operating technical functions and systems in vehicles? Would people like to have standardized functions and systems in vehicles? To answer these questions, DEKRA commissioned opinion pollsters forsa to conduct a representative survey in October 2022. A total of more than 1,500 German-speaking residents aged 18 or over, systematically chosen at random, took part.
When asked how they would respond to a fully automated vehicle, 60 percent of those surveyed said that they would exercise greater caution when interacting with a fully automated vehicle than if the vehicle were controlled by a person – regardless of if they themselves were traveling in a car, on a bike, or as a pedestrian. 36 percent would exercise the same level of caution when interacting with a fully automated vehicle as they would for a vehicle controlled by a person. Skepticism of fully automated vehicles increases as the respondents get older, and women would exercise greater caution than men.
When asked about driver assistance systems that are already installed in modern cars (such as automated emergency braking systems, lane guard assistants, or adaptive cruise control), the respondents were relatively trusting with a figure of 68 percent. However, 25 percent still tend not to trust the systems, and five percent do not trust them at all. When asked about their trust in the safety of automated driving functions, around half of those surveyed said that they do not make any distinction between different car manufacturers. For 87 percent of those who trust certain car manufacturers more than others in this respect, the vehicle make plays a (very) big role. 78 percent also consider the country of manufacture to be important, while 55 percent also believe the vehicle’s price is relevant.

The Different Levels of Automation

The technological evolution away from manual driving to fully automated vehicles is underpinned by a complicated, time-consuming process involving innovations in lots of different technical disciplines. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has divided this process into six levels. Level 0 denotes traditional, conventional driving. The driver controls the vehicle and additional systems help them to process information by providing orientation (navigation system with route display) or warnings (e.g., blind spot assistant or acoustic parking assistant). Level 1 denotes assisted driving, where assistance systems take over specific driving tasks in certain situations. This includes things like speed control, distance control, or active parking assistants that act like a digital butler in that they handle the entire process of parking the vehicle in a parking space. Level 2 is semi-automated driving, where the vehicle keeps to its lane under defined conditions and independently brakes or accelerates.
Level 3 is highly automated driving, which enables the driver to temporarily turn their attention away from driving the vehicle and monitoring traffic. The vehicle drives itself in the Operational Design Domain (ODD) set by the manufacturer, but the person behind the wheel is still required to take control at short notice if the system requires it. This level marks the point at which the person in the driver’s seat takes on a hybrid role, switching between being a traditional driver of the vehicle and a vehicle user while the vehicle is moving in automated mode. A current example of Level 3 automation is the Drive Pilot system from Mercedes- Benz. On December 2, 2021, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority issued the world’s first type approval for this kind of automatic lane guard system. Its use in the Mercedes- Benz S-Class is currently still restricted to a speed of 60 km/h on freeway-type roads, and is only allowed in daylight, with good visibility, and if there is no frost. The person behind the wheel must always be ready to take over control of the vehicle if prompted to do so.
The next level up, Level 4, denotes fully automated driving, which is when the person behind the wheel relinquishes all driving duties to the vehicle and becomes a passenger. The vehicle manages many stretches of road by itself, and after handing over control to the vehicle the driver is allowed to turn their attention away from what is happening on the road. The system must be able to detect the limits in good time, so as to ensure it can independently adopt a safe state in compliance with the regulations and prevent damage by parking at the side of the road or on a shoulder. In effect, it should no longer be possible to hold occupants liable for any violations or damage caused when the vehicle is in fully automated mode. Vehicle driving at Level 4 is a much broader concept than Level 3 and it contains only a few specifically defined exclusion criteria.
At the highest level, which is autonomous or driverless driving (Level 5), all restrictions are lifted. There are only passengers in the vehicle, none of whom have any driving responsibilities, while, at Levels 3 and 4 the users in the vehicle are only relieved of their driving duties temporarily. At Level 5, the occupants never have to drive the vehicle. The vehicle could also make a trip without any occupants at all as the car’s technology is able to handle all traffic situations completely by itself. The user simply selects their destination and can then be “chauffeured” there. They are just a passenger, like they would be if they were traveling by train or plane. At this level, the person behind the wheel is completely “out of the loop” and is no longer part of the human–machine control concept.

Automated Driving Is a Complex Matter

Just what challenges manufacturers and programmers are facing in their efforts to get to grips with automated driving from Level 3 onward, is illustrated by the Operational Design Domain, for example. The ODD is defined by the manufacturer and is intended to set out the operating parameters, covering at minimum things such as rainfall, time of day, visibility, road markings, country, and V2X dependencies. In addition, automated driving systems are subject to a whole host of crucial safety requirements, including safely driving the vehicle according to the rules of the road, safely interacting with users via status notifications, handling safety-critical driving situations, promoting a safe vehicle condition by notifying the user about upcoming servicing work, and managing faults caused by system errors or unauthorized system access.
The system also needs to be able to process different scenarios, made up of nominal scenarios (e.g., adjusting the vehicle’s speed and its distance from the vehicle in front), critical scenarios (such as if another slower-moving vehicle cuts in in front and brakes), and fault scenarios covering things like the failure of a sensor. Other key criteria include the type of operation or intervention in the system, and the user’s position while the vehicle is being driven. Likewise, the system needs to know how many other road users are located around the vehicle, where they are, what type of road user they are, and how they are moving, in order to be able to respond accordingly.
In a nutshell, the higher up the levels you go, the more driving duties are taken over by the technical system and the less the person is involved in the driving process. At the first three levels (Level 0 to Level 2), the assistants and systems support or supplement the driver, who still carries out the majority of the driving tasks and remains responsible. At the higher levels (from Level 3 onward), control of the vehicle is permanently delegated either in part or in full to the vehicle system. However, this opens the door to new potential risks that were previously unknown to us.
Read the entire 2023 Road Safety Report now!
Accidents, the human factor, technology and infrastructure – plus numerous accident examples and statements by experts from all over the world: The 2023 DEKRA Road Safety Report examines the topic of "technology and people" from different perspectives.
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