EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc is turning to driverless cars as a way to improve the bloc’s floundering record on road deaths.
Bulc said Thursday (31 March) that she is “excited” about driverless cars and new technology functions that connect cars to the internet, which she hopes will turn around the EU’s slipping stats on the number of people killed from road collisions.
Numbers for 2015 show a 1% uptick in the number of road deaths compared to 2014. A further 135,000 people – mostly pedestrians, cyclists and motorbike drivers – were seriously injured on roads last year.
“The numbers are disappointing,” Bulc told reporters.
The Commission says 90% of fatal collisions are caused by drivers who make mistakes or are distracted.
“We see the human factor is failing again and again,” Bulc said.
A Commission official argued that completely driverless cars – which won’t be commercially available for at least the next several years – could have “huge potential for road safety because they would entirely eradicate human error”.
The EU executive is pushing car manufacturers to speed up work on driverless cars in a closed-door working group that started meeting in January.
The group of car manufacturers and public authorities are looking into whether there should be EU-wide rules to clarify who is responsible for accidents caused by driverless cars.
A Commission source said today that there is no need yet to introduce a new laws regulating liability for driverless cars since the Commission wants cars that can drive without any help from a driver to hit roads in 2020.
In the meantime, new cars coming onto the market are equipped with more and more features that connect to the internet.
“Liability for semi-autonomous vehicles is not an issue because the driver is always still there in the car,” the Commission official said.
Bulc said she “counts on information technology” to help EU countries drop the number of road deaths.
“We passed eCall, which is an important element that will be mandatory. We hope it will improve road safety,” she added.
Starting in March 2018, all new cars in the EU will be required to have built-in sensors that automatically alert emergency services if a car has been in a collision.
The Commission is expected to publish a guide later this year detailing how the executive will expand connectivity in road transport.
Bulgaria and Romania have the highest number of road deaths in the EU, with 95 per one million residents.
Malta has the lowest number, with 26 deaths per one million inhabitants.
The EU average last year was 51.5 deaths per million residents. More than half of the recorded fatalities were in rural areas.
Bulc railed against member states for putting “less and less money into road safety” and failing to improve roads and police collisions properly.
“We are realising law enforcement can be done much better,” she said.