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Safety remains top priority for auto industry

Speakers at the recent TRA 2006 conference in Göteborg took on the key question of road safety, insisting that, despite enormous efforts and measurable improvements over past decades, much can still be done to reduce accidents.

TRA road safety exhibition

“Citizens care about safety,” said EuroNCAP President Claes Tingvall. “There was a time when we had to force people to be safe, when regulation was the only way. The failed Ford safety campaign of the 1950s is still cited as proof that ‘safety doesn't sell’, but I’m here to tell you that today safety does sell. We have moved on to market-driven development, with car makers now competing for top safety scores and consumers making real buying decisions based on these scores.”

EuroNCAP, the European New Car Assessment Programme, provides automotive consumers with realistic and independent assessments of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe.

New technologies around the corner

“Simple devices such as seatbelt reminders have made a huge difference in the number of road fatalities,” said Tingvall, “and there are more electronic systems on the way, including emergency braking, lane departure warning, alcohol detection. It’s all happening very quickly now and the key will be to bring these powerful solutions to market in a customer-friendly way.”

Claes Tingvall
Claes Tingvall

Speaking to members of the press, André Vits, Head of the ICT for Transport unit at the European Commission’s Information Society Directorate-General, outlined a number of EU initiatives aimed at moving forward on road safety, including eCall and the Intelligent Car initiative. “The important thing here,” he argued, “is that we need coordinated, multi-sector involvement and a common communications strategy to tell people what we are doing.”

Charles Oakley of the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory reported good progress being made by the APROSYS initiative, one of the first Integrated Projects launched under the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme.

Freeing the driver

Agneta Sjogren of Volvo Technology Corporation delivered another interesting presentation on integrated solutions for preventive and active safety systems. “We know that up to 90% of accidents are still caused by drivers,” she said. “In a way, this is to be expected. When you look at the complexity of the driving environment – road signs, infrastructure, other vehicles – there are limits to the ability of a human being to react to all these inputs.

“The solution has been to introduce more and more safety and warning systems,” she explained, “but these systems can themselves become an additional burden to the driver, demanding attention that should be focussed on the road. So a critical issue becomes the integration of these systems, combining functions to free the driver, to allow him or her to get back to the business of driving.”

Going a step further, Anders Godal Holt, Senior Engineer at Norway’s Public Roads Administration discussed his country’s ambitious ‘Vision Zero’. “We are talking about eliminating all road fatalities,” he said. “To do this, we have to think in new and innovative ways. Our starting point must be a basic understanding of human physical and mental abilities, the real limiting factor. From there, we begin to develop new concepts, intelligent vehicles, for example, that can sense other vehicles, infrastructure elements and the road itself, and that can react, vehicles that will not crash into each other or other objects, that will not allow people to cause accidents.”