• United States
by Simon Taylor

‘Intelligent cars’ initiative could save lives

Feb 21, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

Equipping new cars with the latest digital safety devices could prevent thousands of road deaths in the European Union and save billions of euros by reducing traffic, a senior European Commission official said Tuesday.

Under the “intelligent cars” initiative due to be unveiled Thursday by IT commissioner Viviane Reding, the Commission wants to encourage car makers to install the latest safety devices in new vehicles. According to Commission figures, a range of digital technologies could cut road deaths by around 10 percent and prevent thousands of accidents. In addition, better electronic traffic management systems could help reduce congestion, which costs the E.U.’s economy around €50 billion ($60 billion) a year in transport delays.

The eCall system, in which vehicles automatically contact emergency services in the event of an accident, could cut fatalities by 5% to 15% if all new cars had the technology by 2010, according to Rosalie Zobel, a director at the Commission’s information society directorate-general.

Devices such as adaptive cruise control, which help prevent rear-end collisions by monitoring the position of vehicles in front of car, could stop 4,000 accidents a year even if only 3% of cars had the technology installed by 2010, the official explained.

Other devices that monitor a vehicle’s lane position could prevent 1,500 accidents a year if only 0.6% of vehicles had the products by 2010, the Commission said, while a technology that monitors drivers’ eye movement and triggers alarms when they get sleepy could help stop 30% of all fatal motorway crashes and 9% of all fatal accidents.

The E.U., the 25-member bloc, set a goal of halving the number of road deaths by 2010 but there are still over 1.4 million accidents a year and 40,000 fatalities on E.U. roads. Human error is believed to be responsible for almost 93% of all accidents at a cost of €200 billion or 2% of the E.U.’s total gross domestic product (GDP). Traffic congestion is estimated to affect 10% of the entire E.U. road network a year at a cost of €50 billion or 0.5% of GDP.

The Commission wants to accelerate the adoption of these technologies. Manufacturers have been slow to install existing technologies that increase road safety such as anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability programs, which improve driver control in slippery conditions.

But Commission officials admitted that several obstacles impede faster adoption of new devices, including:

— legal barriers involving spectrum management;

— the adoption of an E.U.-wide standard for adaptive cruise control;

— the high cost of devices due to relatively low level of consumer demand;

— and poor public awareness of the existence and effectiveness of safety-enhancing devices.

Concern over liability if a product failed — the manufacturer or the vehicle maker — was also holding up adoption in some sectors, said Fabrizio Minarini, an official at the Commission information society directorate-general.

The Commission is organizing a Feb. 23 demonstration in Brussels of the latest technologies.