New vehicle technologies and extension of EU infrastructure safety rules could prevent thousands of collisions on motorways
New safety technologies could play a major role in bringing the numbers killed on European motorways down, according to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), authors of a new report published today.
The new analysis of developments in motorway safety shows that, despite recent progress, around 1900 were killed on motorways in the EU in 2013.
The report cites figures from several countries showing that up to 60% of those killed in motorway collisions were not wearing a seatbelt. The authors call on the EU to require the mandatory installation of intelligent seat belt reminder systems (SBR) for all passenger seats in new cars. Currently only driver seats are required to be fitted with an SBR.
The EU is currently undertaking a review of the safety requirements that all new vehicles sold in Europe must comply with. A new proposal is expected later this year; the rules were last updated in 2009.
The authors also recommend the EU requires the installation of intelligent speed assistance (ISA) and lane departure warning systems (LDWS) in new vehicles. Assisting ISA is an overridable in-car system that uses GPS data and sign-recognition cameras to help drivers stick to speed limits. The technology could cut deaths overall by 20%. LDW systems alert the driver if they drift out of their lane, a sign of fatigue or distraction that can be fatal; it is 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. But as the world begins to envisage a future of fully-automated vehicles, an EU-backed push for these intermediate technologies will also help keep the European automotive sector on the cutting edge of a market that risks being dominated by competition from large technology firms based outside Europe.”
The report also highlights the need for the European Union to do more to reduce the numbers of people killed on urban and rural roads as figures show motorway deaths are falling faster than deaths on the rest of the road network. Between 2004 and 2013, the number of people killed on motorways in the EU decreased by 8% per year on average, compared to 6.5% on other roads.
To narrow the gap in progress, the authors recommend extending EU infrastructure safety rules, which currently apply mainly to Europe’s major motorways, to the rest of the road network. The European Commission is set to publish an update to that legislation later this year.
In particular the authors cite road safety audits – independent technical checks aimed at identifying unsafe features of a road – as a key element in EU infrastructure rules that is helping to save lives and should therefore also be applied to other roads. Road safety impact assessments for new projects, treatment of high-risk sites on existing roads and regular safety inspections as part of maintenance work are also crucial. Independent research highlighted in the report indicates that these measures can cut collisions by up to 20%.
The researchers found that between 2004 and 2013, 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 400 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.
“This report shows that while road safety is improving overall, the benefits of new measures are not being felt equally. Road users in urban and rural areas have seen their levels of risk fall less quickly than that of motorway users. Likewise there are still big differences between member states. It’s up to the EU to help ensure that safety improvements reach further and faster.”