For many of us, the daily traffic and accident reports on the radio are just background noise. But every accident report involves human lives. Worldwide, about 1.3 million people die on the roads each year and more than 50 million are injured! Cars or trucks in particular pose the greatest threat to the lives of those involved in the accident. We are still a long way from “Vision Zero”, the vision that one day there will be no more fatalities on the roads. The concept represents a paradigm shift in road safety work: The protection of particularly endangered, i.e. vulnerable, road users has priority. Associations, commissions and research projects around the world are fighting for this to be fulfilled. Digitization, data analysis and networked mobility management are the royal road to the solution.
Declining numbers are not enough
In fact, even without the effects of the coronavirus lockdown, the number of people killed in road accidents in Europe is mainly down from 2019 to 2021. France leads the statistics for 2021 with 2,947 deaths, while Germany ranks 3rd with about 2,600 deaths. But that is no reason to sit back and relax: The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASRIT) published frightening numbers for U. S. roadways: more than 46,000 people die in accidents each year. Another 4.4 million are injured so seriously that they require medical treatment. “We cannot accept there will always be personal injuries,” Sofia Salek de Braun strongly emphasizes. After experiencing her own tragic loss, she has dedicated her life to safety on the world’s roads as a Global Road Safety Ambassador. “Road safety is our shared responsibility. It is important to identify and evaluate hazardous locations as a baseline. Using modern tools, this retrospective observation of accidents is more successful than ever. Above all, however, with today’s digitalization capabilities, we need to make traffic safer from the start.”
Road safety through networked mobility
The human factor is the greatest safety risk to itself. However, human error in traffic cannot simply be stopped – people can only be protected by the surrounding systems. Concepts for modern mobility are therefore increasingly relying on autonomous vehicles and systems. People should only be able to take over control in an emergency. But the establishment of autonomous vehicles is still in its infancy.
A safe environment on the roads is achieved by closely networking several digital mobility solutions: Comprehensive road safety analysis, data-supported road safety planning based on this analysis, intelligent traffic infrastructure, and comprehensive environment sensor technology, i.e., communication between the vehicle and its environment. The Networked Mobility platform at the Center for Digitalization in Bavaria (Zentrum Digitalisierung Bayern, Germany) describes networked mobility systems as one of the most important challenges for the mobility of the future.
Data analysis, data simulation and data exchange for proactive prevention
When designing safe road space, an analysis of relevant data first plays the most important role. When supported by data, realistic traffic and road models can be simulated, optimized scenarios can be iteratively tested and evaluated – and in this way, road safety can already be taken into account during the traffic planning stage. Real added value for the municipalities.
At the same time, there is considerable potential in the exchange of data between the responsible agencies; an important aspect in the early detection of danger hotspots in particular. Salek de Braun confirms: “We need to make nationwide accident data available in digital form, with unrestricted access for all involved, both the police and municipalities alike”. The rule is: the more complete, the better. For example, the Interactive Accident Atlas of the Federal Statistical Office of Germany still lacks information that is relevant for detailed accident analyses. The FeGIS+ research project, on the other hand, not only collected accident data, but also launched a new website for Germany and neighboring countries. This offers citizens themselves the opportunity to provide valuable feedback on danger hotspots. Associated administrations can use this digital data pool across the board, prioritize their scheduling, and optimize and mitigate the traffic infrastructure. A citizens’ science project for the so-called interested layperson. Salek de Braun knows that this perspective is important. “Action is also needed where hazards exist, even if they have not yet led to an accident.”
Dynamic infrastructure for looking around bends
However, optimized traffic planning and infrastructure are often not enough to ensure the protection of particularly vulnerable road users. The dynamization of infrastructure via environmental sensor technology is the next essential step to have a major impact on road safety. In mobility concepts of the future, it is assumed that city-wide smart grids will also be available for all road users to be able to communicate with each other. Retrofit systems or so-called wearables will be able to be used to equip all vehicles, including bicycles and scooters, as well as pedestrians themselves with such systems. This would also make it possible to master traffic situations that are difficult to see, for example when a situation limits the field of vision of built-in sensors and a cyclist is approaching at high speed from another location. With the help of standardized communication via C2X technology, vehicles and the infrastructure can exchange information autonomously, because they act simultaneously as transmitters and receivers of information. Early warnings to the control system, a digital view “around the bend or through the truck” so to speak, create enough time for life-saving evasive maneuvers and braking.
Road safety strengthens social development
“The best present is to be present,” was the campaign launched by the Portuguese National Road Safety Authority to promote safe travel during the Christmas period. All around the world, there has been a noticeable increase in awareness of social responsibility. Digital innovations are creating entirely new approaches to road safety work: As new technologies are able to provide reliable data within seconds, safe participation in road traffic is only just becoming possible.
In addition to reducing potential hazards to life and limb, traffic safety helps reduce transportation infrastructure repair costs, improve mobility, and promote overall social development. Especially in countries with high accident rates. Salek de Braun strongly believes: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working together for the common good!”
FeGiS+, a project for proactive road safety work
Newcastle University and PTV Group join forces worldwide to improve road safety
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