According to some estimates, slowing traffic
down by an average of just 1 km/h would reduce the number of road
accidents by 2-3%. The next question is how to raise the awareness
of motorists steeped in a culture where speed has a more positive
image. For two years researchers from eight European countries studied
the many different ways currently used (or under development) in
the European Union to ease the driver's foot off the accelerator
pedal. The principal objective was to compile an inventory of duly
analysed best practice for the public authorities. One central message
pervades the final report on the study: there is no panacea. Instead,
the researchers advocate a mix of solutions, depending on the type
of environment (motorways, country roads, urban roads, etc.) and
drawing on the latest developments in information and communications
technology, though not systematically.
GPS to slow down cars
Some drivers are already familiar with certain advanced transport
telematics (ATT) systems, such as variable message signs displaying
recommended or mandatory speed limits, depending on traffic density
or weather conditions. Other tools are being developed to equip
vehicles to receive information from the outside world and suggest
a response to the driver (via screens in the car, for example) or
even, in certain critical situations, act in place of the driver.
The most innovative instrument of this type, currently being studied
by several carmakers, is the variable speed limiter.
'The system automatically adapts the speed of the vehicle to the
situation,' explains Veli-Pekka Kallberg, the coordinator of the
Master project. 'It can be activated on passing a speed limit sign
or when there is fog, poor visibility or other potentially dangerous
conditions. It takes the form of an active accelerator pedal which,
in fact, exerts a counter-force whenever the driver attempts to
exceed the authorised speed. The signal activating the limiter can
be sent by a roadside transmitter or even via a GPS-type system,
which tracks the car's position in traffic at all times.'
Tests designed to gauge the efficiency of the system as a vehicle
approaches a dangerous bend were conducted on a driving simulator
during the Master project. They showed that the speed limiter works
better than leaving the driver - who is fully informed of the vehicle's
speed via a roadside or in-vehicle screen - to decide. Other tests,
this time on the road, reached less black-and-white conclusions.
They were able to demonstrate the limiter's effectiveness, but only
in certain conditions, in this case on urban roads. 'In terms of
driver acceptance, the speed limiter is the least popular system,'
adds the project coordinator.
Other road management methods - less high tech than ATT, but not
to be neglected - were also explored, in particular, the self-explaining
road concept. 'The best example is motorways,' continues Mr Kallberg.
'Their appearance leaves no doubt about what sort of road they are:
several wide lanes, one-way traffic, no bicycles, no crossroads
- it's quite clear. Unfortunately, this is not the case on many
other types of road, particularly in urban areas. We need a system
consisting of a limited number of types of road, each with clearly
This self-explaining roads concept means choosing distinctive features,
such as surfacing, lane width, presence or lack of cycle paths,
width of pavements, etc. On a driving simulator, researchers working
on the Master project singled out two aspects to which drivers seem
particularly receptive: cycle paths and road width.
Along the same lines, the report stresses the need to adapt roads
to their environment, particularly when they pass through residential
areas. They could include chicanes, noisy markings, narrowing of
the road, traffic islands, mini-roundabouts, noisy or coloured surfaces,
gateways at the entrances of villages, etc. Several studies have
concluded that layouts like this could cut the number of serious
accidents by 30% to 50%.
The partners working on Master also feel that road safety in Europe
would improve substantially if speed limits were generally tighter.
For example, they recommend lowering the limit to 30 km/h in purely
residential urban streets (instead of the 50 km/h or 60 km/h currently
allowed in many countries).
One final point: the big differences in legislation from one country
to another are an added danger. On motorways, for example, the speed
limits range from 90 km/h in Norway to 130 km/h in Italy, France
and the United Kingdom. And there is no speed limit at all on most
motorways in Germany.
Managing Speeds of Traffic on European Roads (MASTER)
Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)
Fax : +358-9-464850
E-mail : Veli-Pekka.Kallberg@vtt.fi
European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport
Fax : +32 2 29 68350
E-mail : email@example.com
- Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), Espoo, Finland
-Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), Crowthorne, United Kingdom
-Lund University - Department of Traffic Planning and Engineering,
-Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI),
-Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research
(TNO), Delft, Netherlands
-University of Leeds - Institute for Transport Studies (ITS),
Leeds, United Kingdom
-Ingeniera de Trafico (INTRA S.L.), Barcelona, Spain
-Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV), Leidschendam,
-University College London - Institute for Transport Studies
(ITS), London, United Kingdom
-FACTUM Chaloupka, Praschl, Risser OHG, Vienna, Austria
-Institute for Transport Sciences Ltd (KTI), Budapest, Hungary
-Instituto Superior Técnico (TRANS-POR), Lisbon, Portugal
Adapting driving restrictions to the environment,
particularly in residential areas, could cut the number of serious
accidents by 30% to 50%.