ETSC calls for mandatory technology to reduce motorway risk

12.00 | 5 March 2015 | | 8 comments

Around 1,900 people were killed on motorways in the EU in 2013 and as many as 60% of those were not wearing a seatbelt, according to analysis published today (5 Mar) by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).

On the back of the findings the ETSC is calling on the EU to require the mandatory installation of intelligent seat belt reminder systems (SBR) for all passenger seats in new cars. Currently this is only required for driver seats.

The EU is currently undertaking a review of the safety requirements that all new vehicles sold in Europe must comply with. The rules were last updated in 2009 and a new proposal is expected later this year.

As part of the review, ETSC is also recommending the EU requires the installation of intelligent speed assistance (ISA) and lane departure warning systems (LDWS) in new vehicles.

ISA is an overridable in-car system that uses GPS data and sign-recognition cameras to help drivers adhere to speed limits which, according to ETSC, “could cut deaths overall by 20%”.

LDW systems, which alert the driver if they drift out of their lane (a sign of fatigue or distraction), are already mandatory for new lorries and buses.

Antonio Avenoso, executive director of ETSC, said: “Technologies that can step in to help the driver avoid catastrophe have the potential to save thousands of lives on our roads.”

The ETSC report also found that between 2004 and 2013 in the EU, Lithuania achieved the best average year-on-year reduction in deaths on motorways (-20%), followed by Slovakia (-14%) and Spain (-13%). Denmark, Austria, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Italy achieved better reductions than the EU average. Poland also managed to cut deaths despite quadrupling the length of its motorway network over the same period from 400km to 1500km.

For countries where death rates can be calculated based on traffic volume, the worst performing countries have a risk factor four times higher than the best countries. Denmark, Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands have the safest motorways while those in Poland, Hungary and Lithuania have the highest level of risk.


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    Surely the headline should read “ETSC calls for incorrect technology”?

    Position based speed limiting will do nothing to increase safety, and may even have a detrimental affect.

    Distance monitoring, or adaptive, cruise control, coupled with active braking activation would however increase safety. The problem is not the speed of vehicles, but the distances between them being too small to allow for evasive action.

    Let’s face it, we have all seen the cars travelling at 80, with 20 ft seperation. What really is the danger, doing 80, or not having time and space to react?

    Steve, Watford
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    My guess, in response to Paul’s query, is that the parameters needed by ISA when it decides whether or how to intervene are much more consistent on motorways than on other roads. I am not far from alone in refusing to believe that the complex software and detection systems necessary for ISA or driverless cars will ever be capable of making fewer errors than humans, for all our faults. I doubt that anyone who has used a computer for more than a few months has never experienced a software failure or glitch – not normally much of a problem when stationary but likely to be lethal at 60 or 70mph.

    One other point – ISA’s original benefit/cost ratio projections were absurd, not least in assuming continued traffic growth and at least constant accident levels into the indefinite future. Factoring in the marked accident reductions of recent years leads to even lower benefit/cost ratios and, as others have said here far too much concentration on speeding, a relatively minor problem.

    And as usual, ISA and similar systems can and do have adverse effects.

    Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield
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    Just a technical note on ISA fitted to motorcycles. The throttle on a motorcycle primarily controls the stability of the machine and its ability to go round corners, then it controls the suspension and lastly it controls the speed. Traction control systems do take over the management of the throttle, but only in response to the bike’s stability already being compromised due to a loss of grip. In all other situations a throttle override invoked by ISA runs a very high risk of making a bike unstable.

    Duncan MacKillop. No surprise – No accident.
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    Of course not Nick, that would be to continue to base road safety policy on opinion or best intention, rather than evidence. I simply pointed out that, like most safety devices or policy, ISA may introduce negative side-effects.

    To have ISA as an optional extra is one thing, but to force ISA to be mandatory in all cars without establishing what effect it has risks damaging road safety in a way that could be extraordinarily difficult to fix. Motorways are already our safest roads but the authorities seem determined to meddle with the system. There is a saying in engineering: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The problem is that road safety doesn’t appear to be engineering, it appears to be politics dressed up to look like engineering.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    I’m not sure we should be judging the merits of ISA on your anecdotal experience of using a speed limiter.

    Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News
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    How on earth could ISA prevent more deaths (20%) than even involve a speeding vehicle (13.6%)? Also, many of those fatalities may be motorcyclists but ISA cannot be fitted to motorcycles. Furthermore, as the vast majority of fatal collisions occur when people are not speeding, simply reducing speed to the limit may be insufficient to prevent many of those fatalities.

    And that’s without mentioning negative side-effects of ISA. I have used a speed limiter before (manually-selected ISA) and it’s strange. After a while dawdling along at the limit with the throttle open, it became harder to adjust speed to conditions. Concentrating fully became much more difficult and it sometimes took longer to recognise situations developing, something that hardly ever occurs when I control the speed. These and other effects of ISA could cause more fatalities.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    Just look at how close the vehicles are and they must be travelling at 60 mph or over. If there is a mechanical breakdown or initial collision none of the vehicles shown would be able to stop in time and we end up with a multiple pileup and whether persons were using seat belts or not a lot of deaths and serious injuries.

    What is required on a motorway is Safe Space between vehicles and that can be easily identified by all drivers if given the knowledge. At present they obviously believe that they are a safe distance apart when the are not. Giving Space is a simple message together with the easy way to judge such a distance that is safe.

    We have spent too much time and effort and money on speed, that we have lost out and forgotten the other road safety measures.

    Bob Craven Lancs……Space is Safe Campaigner
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Interesting. I wonder why just motorways are referred to – surely technology is just as applicable to urban and rural roads as well, plus motorways are already the safest roads in the UK, at least?

    Paul Biggs, Staffordshire
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