January 31, 2019
Automobile manufacturers have a long tradition and a strong track record in improving road safety, not only for the occupants of the vehicles they build but for all road users. Indeed, safety is a topic that is very close to our hearts. And the results of this high level of commitment are very tangible. As I already lined out in November last year, Europe is the world leader in road safety. However, there is no room for complacency here. Everyone – our industry, consumers and policy makers alike – agrees that road casualties and injuries must be further reduced.
With that in mind, the European Commission published a proposal for the revision of the General Safety Regulation (GSR) back in May 2018. Shortly put, this EU Regulation mandates the safety measures that automobile manufacturers have to include in new motor vehicles. As many of you are no doubt aware, this revision is now under discussion by the European Parliament and the Council. The Parliament’s Transport Committee already voted on the GSR proposal earlier this month and the lead Internal Market Committee will follow suit in February.
ACEA is constructively contributing to this revision process and supports a wide array of the vehicle safety measures that have been proposed by the Commission. This includes autonomous emergency braking systems, which start braking manoeuvres automatically if a collision is imminent and the driver is not taking any action to avoid it, among others.
Other measures supported by ACEA include drowsiness and attention detection systems (assessing the driver’s alertness and warning him or her to take a break when needed), reversing detection for cars and vans (making the driver aware of people and objects at the rear of the vehicle when reversing) and emergency stop signals (indicating to other road users behind the vehicle that it is rapidly slowing down).
We also advocate for including lane departure warning systems, which warn the driver if he or she leaves a marked lane without using the indicator or if the vehicle is drifting out of its travel lane. In addition, car manufacturers support passive safety measures to better mitigate rear and frontal crashes.
As you can tell, ACEA supports many of the proposed safety measures. At the same time, however, the auto industry also believes that some of the measures require further review to ensure a focus on the technologies with the strongest positive outcomes. Some safety technologies have the potential to prevent or minimise the consequences of several different types of accidents. This is really important, as it means that with one single investment you can address various accident types.
For instance, the Commission has proposed to make advanced driver distraction systems mandatory. But the required technology to identify a ‘distracted’ driver has strong limitations, as everybody drives differently. Yet accidents related to distraction can already be reduced by autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning systems. Similarly, autonomous emergency braking will also prevent or reduce the severity of frontal and side crashes, reducing the need for additional measures to address these types of accidents. That is why we call upon the European Parliament and the Council to take these synergies into account.
And while we talk about improving vehicle technology today, we should not forget that we are at the same time paving the way for the future. A future which is increasingly connected and automated. Indeed, many of today’s active safety technologies will help to prepare drivers and other road users for a future when cars take over control from drivers.
Although such highly automated cars are not just around the corner, they will come. Self-driving vehicles will not require any driver input, having the ability to navigate independently using on-board sensors and evaluation equipment. Removing the driver from the equation will also reduce the element of human error from driving, which is still the cause in 90% of all accidents today. A self-driving car simply will not hold a mobile phone behind the wheel nor will it exceed speed limits or drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
But fully autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be widely available before 2030. However, over the span of just a few years, we have already seen the commercial introduction of vehicles with increasing degrees of partial automation. These automated vehicles are able to perform an increasing number of driving tasks in specific driving scenarios, offering significant potential to compensate for human errors and thereby improve road safety.
Using sensors, radar and video imaging technology, partially-automated vehicles monitor their surroundings in order to increase driver awareness but also to make their own decisions in order to prevent accidents. In the latter case, systems can take over safety-critical functions (such as steering and braking) from the driver under certain circumstances.
Vehicles equipped with so-called advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are already preventing accidents and deaths on Europe’s roads. Technologies such as autonomous emergency braking and lane keeping assistance are examples of ADAS technology which helps to avoid human errors that are in-use today. ADAS will play a crucial role in the medium-term to prepare drivers and other road users for the reality of a driverless future, as we gradually move towards automated vehicles.
In addition to the development of (partially) automated vehicles, there is also a surge in the use of connectivity and information sharing to further improve road and vehicle safety. Indeed, by allowing vehicles to exchange information with nearby vehicles and infrastructure, it is possible to drive down the number of accidents and casualties.
So-called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) are increasingly facilitating networking between vehicles and their surroundings. C-ITS can detect the flow of traffic, its speed and density. Using this information it is possible to impose variable speed limits, to determine whether to open or close traffic lanes and to help avert accidents. Construction workers can, for example, automatically inform approaching traffic of a temporary speed limit, and hazards on the road ahead can be flagged by the police.
As an industry, we are investing strongly in making all of this happen, but we also need to work with other stakeholders in order to make a difference. For instance, driverless cars will need to be able to ‘read’ roads, so investments in digital and road infrastructure will need to be made to ensure that road markings and traffic signs are fully readable in the future. Indeed, the successful roll-out of autonomous driving technology as well as C-ITS will require a coherent approach across the EU.
The need to work together with other stakeholders brings me to my last point. While we believe in the huge potential of vehicle safety technology, by itself it will never suffice. ACEA is therefore calling on policy makers to adopt a truly integrated approach to road safety; combining new vehicle technology with better road infrastructure and safer driver behaviour.
This is the only way to achieve the objective of reducing fatalities and serious injuries to zero in the future. I am convinced that in order to live up to that ambition Europe needs such an integrated approach both now, when discussing the revision of the General Safety Regulation, as well as in the driverless future that is ahead of us.
Secretary General of ACEA