Safety makes headlines at major road transport research conference
Speakers at the recent TRA 2008 conference in Ljubljana took on the key question of road safety. Despite enormous efforts and some improvements, all agreed that much remains to be done to reduce the occurrence and severity of road accidents.
© Peter Gutierrez
Road safety has become a genuine social issue in Europe, a growing concern for businesses, governments and the travelling public alike. While the statistics vary, it is clear that tens of thousands of people still die in the EU Member States in road accidents every year, and that the annual cost to the economy certainly exceeds €200 billion.
Speaking at the TRA 2008 opening session, EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik said, "Despite our pledge in 2001 to cut Europe's 57 000 traffic fatalities by 50% by 2010, more than 40 000 still meet their end on Europe's roads in car accidents every year. That's the equivalent of five medium-sized airliners crashing every week."
Spotlight on manufacturers and drivers
With support from the European Commission, car manufacturers are now working harder than ever to build safer cars and trucks, Journalists at the TRA conference got a chance to see what one major maker is doing to improve road safety when they toured the Renault factory in Novo Mesto.
Jean-Yves Le Coz, Renault Group's Director for Road Safety and Director for Safety Advanced Projects stressed the importance of hard data. "We have to know what's happening before we can improve the situation," he said. "That's why accidentology is so crucial. We have to analyse the causes of accidents, understand human physical tolerances and study driver behaviour."
Le Coz outlined the Renault safety philosophy, stressing four key points: prevention, correction, protection and education. Like many other speakers throughout the TRA conference, he insisted on the relevance of driver behaviour.
© Peter Gutierrez
"There is definitely a road safety 'learning curve'," he said. We see road fatalities going up in societies where car ownership is increasing rapidly. Then, as we hit a saturation level, populations become more familiar with cars and more conscious of road safety issues. In short, they become better drivers, and we see the accident figures stabilise and even start to come down."
Exciting eSafety initiatives
The TRA 2008 conference featured several parallel events where delegates met to discuss specific road transport-related issues and initiatives. One of these events was the eSafety Observers meeting.
eSafety is a joint industry-public sector initiative driven by the European Commission and co-chaired by ERTICO-ITS Europe and ACEA, the Association of European Car Manufacturers. Its goal is to bring together stakeholders to accelerate the development, deployment and use of intelligent vehicle safety systems (IVSS), all in a bid to help meet the Commission's 2001 target of halving the number of fatalities on Europe's roads by 2010.
IVSS use advanced information and communication technologies to provide new solutions to road transport safety problems. One important example is a new in-vehicle device, developed by the EU-funded eCall initiative, that automatically calls rescue services and transmits location data after an accident. eCall partners say victim survival rates are closely linked to the time it takes to provide medical care. When fully deployed, eCall will enable much faster emergency response, potentially saving 2500 lives every year.
Other eSafety systems include: electronic stability control (ESC); adaptive headlights; obstacle and collision warning, blind spot monitoring; lane departure warning; speed alerts; and many others.
Safety boosting projects
The TRA 2008 conference featured a variety of new products and envelope-pushing vehicles, including the Piaggio MP3, a highly innovative scooter-like vehicle with two front wheels that promoters say features “power, performance and ease of use”. The unusual front assembly, with two independent tilting wheels, is reputed to be far more stable than any scooter, providing top performance in total safety.
The MP3, already in production, has become the starting point for the EU-funded SIM project (Safety in motion). The aim of the project, says Piaggio’s Federico Galliano, is to equip the MP3 with both active and passive safety devices, including an assisted braking system, electronic suspension, air bags and an intelligent navigation system and management tool that will relay system information to the driver.
© Peter Gutierrez
Another project making waves is HEAVYROUTE, using the latest methods for calculating the safest and most cost-effective routes for road freight transport. Project coordinator Anita Ihs of Sweden's VTI said "We are combining both existing and new technologies to improve safety and to maximise road capacity and efficiency."
The HEAVYROUTE system takes into account user needs, vehicle operations and environmental costs, but also maintenance costs due to the deterioration of roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Throughout TRA 2008, speakers and delegates stressed the importance of human behaviour in road safety. For many, the fact that 90% of road fatalities are still attributable to human behaviour, especially speeding, red light running and non-use of seat belts, would tend to place the power of technological solutions in perspective.
"We can achieve dramatic improvements in safety through better driver education," said Le Coz. "This, together with real technological solutions, can make a difference."