A safer road ahead
A wave of new intelligent devices and sophisticated simulators is aimed at improving the safety on European roads. Innovative warning systems integrated into the vehicles will be available to drivers in the future, as well as simulators that can better the training of both novice and long-time drivers under all sorts of conditions.
For many months truck safety in the Netherlands has been under evaluation. Anti-collision systems have been going through a test programme under real life conditions, or 'field operational test'. Among the new devices is a warning alarm for forward collisions, which sounds when the driver is approaching too close to the vehicle ahead. An adaptive cruise control automatically changes the speed in order to maintain a safe distance from the upcoming vehicle. A lane departure warning system alerts the driver when the vehicle begins to stray from the lane. These alarms can be particularly beneficial for tiresome truck drivers.
The systems are generally not fully automated and require some kind of human interaction. Some drivers don't like such high-tech support systems, which is why these field tests are an important chance to improve the interface between the driver and support system.
There are already many intelligent systems available, but much development is still required before we see widespread use by the general public. The project euroFOT will extend the testing of such driving devices on a European-wide scale.
Simulators are also being used in the evaluation of the new driver support systems. At the Institute of Traffic Sciences at Wurzburg, Germany, driver parameters and reactions are recorded and analysed. The running and development of these machines require the cooperation of engineers, computer scientists and psychologists.
Another application for these simulators is the improvement of driving skills. The Train-All project is investigating advanced developments for simulators, including specific software for different drivers (bikers, truckers, ambulance drivers, etc.). One can therefore drive everyday scenarios, which is practical for novice drivers, or the simulator experience can be adapted for emergency drivers from the police, fire stations or ambulance services. One of the simulators being used offers a 210x40 degree view and programmed rear-view mirrors inside the vehicle mock-up.
The police from Bavaria in Germany are participating in the project, having their trainees use a simulator to receive driver training in emergency situations. The simulator has been customised to meet the needs of the police. Instead of a vehicle mock-up an original BMW patrol car cabin is used, which is fixed to a motion platform with six degrees of freedom, giving the trainee a feel for the inclination of the roads.
A benefit of this method of training is that afterwards the trainees can see and analyse their performance and identify their errors. There has recently been a second simulation unit installed, allowing a second vehicle to drive simultaneously within the same scenario. The capability of two trainees running simulated operations together has brought new depth to their training.
While this method will never replace real-life training, there are plenty of scenarios that simply cannot be practised on the outside roads, since they would be too dangerous. Simulation offers the best alternative for such cases.
But despite extensive training or on-board cameras and automatic braking being built into vehicles, the decisive power remains with the driver, and so too the responsibility to drive safe.