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Leveraging the safety potential of automated driving

What will be driverless mobility's impact on safety? (Photo: iStock / Redrockschool)

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Ellen Townsend
Ellen Townsend
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The European Transport Safety Council assesses the safety potential of automated driving and points to the technologies that are already saving lives. A new report includes specific recommendations for measures to be taken on the road to autonomous cars.

Automated driving technologies are already preventing collisions and deaths on our roads. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is now mandatory on all new cars sold in Europe. Automated Emergency Braking (AEB), Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) and lane-keeping systems are increasingly commonplace. All these systems use technology to compensate, to some extent, for human error, taking some control away from the driver under certain circumstances.

But we now stand on the verge of something much bigger. Fully autonomous vehicles may, in the near future, transform our world. Cars that drive themselves could bring dramatic shifts in car ownership, public transport, employment patterns, business and urban development.

The theoretical safety benefits are huge. Autonomous vehicles won’t drink and drive or get distracted by telephone calls, Facebook posts, or children in the back. They will be programmed to drive at appropriate and legal speeds, and will pay attention to their environment in 360 degrees at millions of times every second.

These technologies will clearly mitigate some risks; but they may also create new ones. And despite the rapid technological advances in recent years, Europe is very far from answering the many research and regulatory questions that partly-automated and fully autonomous vehicles present.

Turning theoretical into actual benefits

We face a medium to long-term scenario where autonomous vehicles will interact with large numbers of non-automated vehicles. What will the impact be on safety?

Other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians will not become automated – how will they manage in a world where they can no longer establish eye contact with drivers before crossing the road?

How will regulators ensure autonomous systems are tested and approved to common standards, especially in a world where cars are already receiving over-the-air software updates that affect safety performance, such as Tesla’s recent autopilot update?

In short, there is an urgent need to put in place certain prerequisites prior to the wider deployment of automated vehicles in Europe.

Key recommendations include:

  •  “Driving tests” for self-driving vehicles for their type approval
  • Standardization of internal and external Human Machine Interfaces to maximize communication efficiency
  • Encourage the wider use of in-vehicle event data recorders (“black boxes”) to learn from collisions and clarify liability questions
  • Conduct research looking at the transitional phase of mixed automated and semi-automated vehicles and interaction with vulnerable road users
  • Revising the Driving Licence Directive to include driver assistance systems with regular updates as the technology develops

The aim of this paper is not to answer all these questions. Its purpose is to give an overview of automated driving, identify the main safety benefits and offer some key recommendations for the near future for the EU and its Member States to create a regulatory environment that prioritises safety.

You can read the full ETSC report here.

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Ellen Townsend
Ellen Townsend
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