A future without traffic accidents? Thanks to new technologies and networked vehicles, this does not have to remain just a vision.
Traffic accidents are still among the world’s ten leading causes of death. According to the World Health Organization, almost 1.3 million people die on the road each year. That sounds dramatic, and it is so in each and every case. Yet overall, far fewer people die in accidents in Europe today than ten years ago. And the numbers continue to fall. This is primarily due to technical innovations that continue to improve the safety of our cars.
The German automotive industry is a pioneer in the research and development of such solutions. We developed the first production-ready anti-lock braking system (ABS) in Germany forty years ago, something which is taken for granted today. It ensures that cars remain controllable even when the driver slams on the brakes. Since then, many other assistance systems that protect drivers and do various tasks for them have been introduced to market.
Lane assist systems sound warnings and steer against the vehicle drifting out of its lane. Emergency brake assists respond when the distance to the vehicle in front is dangerously low. And the eCall emergency call system, which has been mandatory in all new cars from 2015 on, is a German development as well. It automatically notifies emergency services about the location of the car after an accident. EU experts assume that up to 2,500 lives can be saved yearly as a result of the technology.
In addition to these electronic safety technologies, cars have also become much safer physically over the last few decades: inventions such as airbags, crumple zones, or side impact protection systems reduce the severity of the consequences of an accident. The manufacturers are constantly refining these protection and safety mechanisms.
What drives us is “Vision Zero”. This is the goal of not having to see any more deaths or serious injuries on the roads in the future. It is ambitious, but we believe in it. After all, the number of fatalities in Germany has already fallen by two-thirds since 1993.
Is the human being a risk factor?
There is a still a long way to an accident-free future. Nine out of ten accidents are caused by human error. Only increasing automation of certain driving functions could make “vision zero” a reality. Self-driving cars will be able to accurately recognize hazards and prevent accidents. They will automatically brake, evade, or stay in the lane. This is one of the things that we are working on. We are also developing reliable sensors, radars and cameras, adding to what drivers and passengers can see and perceive.
The increasing networking of automobiles using Car-to-X technology also makes our streets safer. Vehicles that communicate with other vehicles and with parts of the transportation infrastructure “see” farther than humans. They detect what is behind the next curve or hill early on and can inform the driver about traffic light phases, construction sites or hazards such as accidents, black ice and traffic jams, giving them time to react appropriately. However, making this work requires our infrastructure to evolve alongside corresponding automotive technologies: “Vision zero” can only become reality if the transportation infrastructure is modernized in the coming years.