Road Safety Is and Remains a Global Challenge

01 Sept 2017 News & Campaigns
Around 1.25 million traffic fatalities per year worldwide means that over 3,400 people are killed on the road every single day. To effectively counteract this trend, action is required on various levels. This is particularly the case given how much the circumstances vary from continent to continent, for example with regard to the infrastructure, the type of road users and the age and safety level of vehicles. The best practice measures described in the previous chapters provide valuable starting points in this regard.
Whether it is speed limits, alcohol interlock programs and breathalyzer tests, driving safety training, public information campaigns, traffc education from an early age, periodic technical inspection to detect vehicle faults, driver assistance systems, barriers between the two sides of the road, 2+1 roads, additional crash barriers to prevent collisions with trees or more – when it comes to improving road safety, no stone must be left unturned. But before any measures can be implemented, it is important to always analyze in detail whether the measure concerned is actually suitable for the relevant problem in view of regional or local circumstances and is therefore an effective solution. It is also important not to forget to follow up these measures to see if they worked as expected or whether even more improvements can be made. In this regard, the best practice examples presented in this report from various countries around the world are not to be considered as a final solution, but rather as potential starting points for preventing traffc accidents and reducing the consequences of these accidents. A measure that has proven successful in Sweden or in a US state, for instance, will not necessarily also achieve the desired effect in another country or region.
One reason for this is that mobility behavior can vary greatly between countries and regions around the world. In many emerging and developing countries, for example, the fact that the level of motorization in terms of car ownership is still comparatively low is due quite crucially to the often tight financial situation in the country in question. People who cannot afford a car will travel by bicycle, by motorcycle or on foot. According to data from the WHO, over 90% of traffic fatalities worldwide occur in countries with low to medium incomes. The risk of being killed in a road accident is particularly high for unprotected road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
One solution to the challenges associated with road safety in the more motorized regions currently being considered by many politicians and the automotive and automotive supply industry is to equip vehicles with more systems for partial, highly and fully automated driving. These systems – in conjunction with assisted driving systems – will no doubt become increasingly important in vehicles of all types in the f future if our roads are to become safer. Nevertheless, the one factor that is and remains the most important when it comes road safety must not be forgotten: people.

Optimum interaction of people, vehicles and the environment

Although the systems in question are designed to help people, there is a risk that people will then pay less attention. Studies involving pilots, for example, show that those who frequently fly using autopilot find themselves in difficulty in situations where their flying skills are called upon. What's more, the better the systems become, the less often drivers will need to intervene in events themselves. This means that as automated driving becomes more widespread, drivers will find it more and more difficult to acquire and maintain the skills necessary for handling diffficult driving situations. Furthermore, drivers may also be inclined to take more risks on the road because they rely on the intervention of “intelligent systems” in critical situations.
As things stand today, in accordance with the March 2016 amendment to the “Vienna Convention on Road Traffc”, automated functions are allowed in vehicles if they can be manually overridden or disabled by the driver at any time. The all-important question is: How much time does a person need in order to intervene where necessary when prompted by the system? Researchers in the “Human Factors in Transport” department at the University of Southampton are investigating this very question. As part of this research, 26 subjects aged between 20 and 52 covered approximately 30km of highway at around 113km/h in a driving simulator. During the journey, the autopilot randomly and repeatedly prompted the subjects to take control of the vehicle. The measured reaction times varied greatly from driver to driver, with the longest response time being 25.8 seconds. In this case, the vehicle would have traveled over 800m before the driver responded.
The study confirms what traffic psychologists are also constantly calling for: People must not be absolved of their responsibility for what happens on the road. They are and remain the decisive element for road safety. Or in other words: In the future, responsible behavior combined with a proper assessment of one's own capabilities and a high level of acceptance of rules will continue to be the most important conditions for ensuring that even fewer people lose their lives on the road. Infrastructure must also be safe by design – the “forgiving road” is part of this.
As William Haddon demonstrated in the mid-twentieth century with the matrix that bears his name, the key to preventing accidents to the greatest possible extent or at least mitigating their consequences is to find the optimum interaction between people, vehicles and the environment in the phases before, during and after a collision. This applies to every single country on earth – and to all groups of road users.