Saving lives through technical safety

Apr 2016

Vehicle Technology

The EU Commission’s objective is to have next to no more traffic fatalities on Europe‘s roads by 2050. To achieve this goal, the focus needs to be on not only driver assistance systems such as ESP but also, increasingly, the next levels of automated driving systems. However, this also immediately raises the question of how these systems can be checked. In the field of vehicle technology, „connected cars“ – thanks to their capability of communicating between vehicles (vehicle- to-vehicle) and from vehicles to centralized systems (vehicle-to-infrastructure) – offer huge potential for preventing road accidents and for rendering more effective assistance following an accident (eCall).

The findings from traffic accident researchers say the same thing time and time again: The main cause of crashes resulting in personal injury and/ or material damage is human error. Statistics show time and again that humans are responsible for more than 90% of all accidents. Experience suggests that errors occur, above all, in perception, in the absorption of information and in the process of accessing information. This applies as much to Germany as it does to most other EU member states. If one takes a closer look at the figures for Germany, it can be seen that car drivers accounted for 250,000 of the almost 362,000 cases of mistakes recorded in 2014 among operators of any mode of transport. This is equivalent to 70%. Of these, in turn, the most common causes of accidents, at 18.6%, were turning off, executing U-turns, driving backward, pulling in and driving off and, at 17.6%, nonobservance of right of way or priority. The influence of alcohol accounted for 3% of all accidents. Gratifyingly, since 1991, the frequency with which alcohol is a cause of accidents among car drivers has fallen by around 74%. The problem of inappropriate speed as a cause of accidents has fallen over this period by 64%. In contrast, turning errors among car drivers have fallen by only 8.3%, while accidents caused by errors in the judgment of distance have in fact increased by 2.5%. As the Federal Statistical Office of Germany explains, certain accidents in which the driver was at fault reveal – per 1,000 persons involved – a clear age or gender dependency: For example, inappropriate speed and errors in the judgment of distance are by far the most common causes of accidents among young drivers, while turning errors or failure to observe right of way increased significantly with age.

Anticipating hazards

To compensate to a certain extent for human shortcomings and errors, the automotive industry has for many years been increasingly focusing on driver assistance systems that are capable of recognizing critical driving and traffic situations early on, warning of dangers and, if necessary, actively intervening. The most important of these systems are electronic stability control, emergency braking systems, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping systems and fatigue warning systems. Their enormous potential for preventing accidents has already been observed in numerous tests and studies: Almost 50% of accidents could be avoided or reduced in severity if innovative driver assistance systems were systematically introduced as standard. Regarding the long-term “Vision Zero” – that is, no fatalities or serious injuries in road accidents – these electronic helpers are, in the opinion of accident researchers, indispensable as integral safety elements and should therefore become even more widespread on the market. Politicians take the same view, too. As the “Mid-Term Review of the Road Safety Program 2011–2020” published by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and already cited in this report states, the further development and consolidation of existing, tried-and-tested assistance systems on the road toward automated, connected driving – Mobility 4.0 – is to be given another major boost. Further positive effects can also be expected through the fact that more advanced sensor technologies arising from the development of automated driving functions will also be deployed in conventional assistance systems, meaning that vehicles with automation levels 0 (driver only) and 1 (assisted) can also be driven more safely.

Safety-relevant applications of driver information and assistance systems

  • Attention detection systems that detect driver distraction or fatigue in order to prevent related accidents. Drunk-driving can also be detected and prevented – for example, sensors embedded in the driver’s seat and in the gearshift lever can detect alcohol in the driver’s sweat.
  • Special warning systems that use, for example, GPS and map data to alert drivers if they accidentally veer into the other lane.
  • Information about tire pressure; this warning can potentially be crucial in preventing accidents. The tire pressure is measured by sensors in the tire and conveyed to the driver inside the vehicle by means of short-distance communication technology such as Bluetooth.
  • Load management systems that restrict cellphone calls, text messages, instant messaging, Internet access and other potentially distracting activities. The system can, for example, divert incoming calls to the mailbox if the driver is currently accelerating or disable use of other services while the vehicle is moving.
  • Automatic alerting of the emergency medical services in the event of an accident. This takes place either via the standardized eCall mechanism or via commercial systems supported by car manufacturers.
  • Obstacle detection sensors that measure distances to nearby objects and so inform drivers of the distance to objects close to the vehicle.
  • Collision avoidance systems (also known as “pre-crash systems”, “collision warning systems” or “collision mitigation systems”) that reduce the risk of collisions. Radar, lidar, laser and optical cameras are used here. At low vehicle speeds (less than, say, 50 km/h), collisions can be avoided through braking.
  • Automatic adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the vehicle speed to ensure that a safe distance between vehicles in the same lane is maintained. Radar sensors and a longitudinal controller are used here.
  • Reversing sensors that alert drivers to the presence of hard-to-see objects during reversing maneuvers.

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