29 Mar 19

Driver distraction is the main killer - so EU 'kills' distraction

According to research by the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distraction is the biggest killer on American roads, followed by intoxication and speed. A 2015 study published by the EU called Driver Distraction mentions that "in epidemiological research about 5 to 25% of car crashes have been attributed to driver distraction."

The EU has now reached a provisional political agreement on the so-called revised General Safety Regulation. As of 2022 new safety technologies will become mandatory in European vehicles to protect passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, including warning of driver drowsiness and distraction, intelligent speed assistance, lane-keeping assistance, advanced emergency braking and a black-box to register accident data.

Every year, 25,000 people lose their lives on European roads. The vast majority, i.e. 90% of these accidents are caused by human error. “We can and must act to change this. With the new advanced safety features that will become mandatory, we can have the same kind of impact as when the safety belts were first introduced”, said commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs.

Safety for all

The introduction of the advanced safety features could save over 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038, according to the EU.

“Many of the new features already exist, in particular in high-end vehicles. Now we raise the safety level across the board, and pave the way for connected and automated mobility of the future," Bieńkowska reckons.

ACEA, the European car makers' association, says safety needs a more holistic approach. "Vehicle technology alone will not be sufficient. For maximum effect, policy makers must now push for a fully integrated approach to road safety; combining vehicle technology with better road infrastructure and safer driver behaviour."

Moreover, car manufacturers believe the mandatory safety features will increase the vehicle cost by hundreds of euros. "Be that as it may, it is worth making it standard if it saves so many lives per year. Also, by making it mandatory for every car maker, economies of scale will surely limit the price impact," a Volvo spokesperson told Fleet Europe last week at a media event in Gothenburg.

Photo credit: Dieter Quartier/Nexus Communication, 2019

Towards zero casualties

During this event, Volvo announced it would be sharing its accident research data with the industry, just like it did with the three-point safety belt in 1959. It also said that in line with its Vision 2020 (zero deaths or seriously injured people aboard a new Volvo from 2020), it would be focusing on three key areas that 'kill': speed, distraction and intoxication. 

As to the first focus area, a 180kph speed cap on every new Volvo is perhaps a symbolic, but nonetheless important step. Speeding decreases the amount of time drivers have to react to dangerous situations and increases the collision forces exponentially.

Another feature that Volvo is likely to fit in its next-generation (SPA2) cars is an automated speed limit based on location data. When you drive near a school, the car will not allow you to go faster than 30kph, for instance. ACEA previously opposed the general introduction of such an intelligent speed assistance, saying the technology gives too many false warnings due to incorrect speed limit information. Indeed, accurate and up to date speed info are an absolute must for this feature to work and the current road signaling, map quality and data communication in Europe leaves much to be desired.

To combat the possible effects of distraction and intoxication (either by alcohol, drugs or other), Volvo wants to install driver-scanning cameras in its future cars that monitor the driver's eyes and the position and movement of his head and body. Combined with an analysis of driving behaviour, the system could intervene in three steps. It starts with a simple auditive, haptic and visual warning. When the driver does not respond, a telephone call will be established to verify the driver's capability to drive and the vehicle will be slowed down automatically. The final step is to bring the vehicle to a full stop and alert the emergency services.

It remains to be seen whether such systems, for privacy reasons, can be switched off. Volvo - and other car makers for that matter - will have to make sure the video data is carefully protected and for 'instant' use only. Another question is whether the video data can and will be registered for accident research purposes - both by the authorities and Volvo itself.





Authored by: Dieter Quartier