The EU wants to increase road safety through the use of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). In that context, the Commission presented on 15 September 2003 a set of measures to develop safer and more intelligent vehicles with the aim of halving the number of deaths from road accidents by 2010.

In its second Road Safety Action Programme (1997-2001), the Commission favoured an integrated approach to road safety, in which both active and passive safety measures, ie. measures to prevent accidents from happening and measures to reduce the impact of accidents play a role.

New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) systems can help to improve road safety in particular in the pre-crash phase (active safety). To close the gap between the development of such technology and its deployment in the marketplace, political action is needed.

To define the priorities for action, a joint Industry-Commission Working Group was set up in April 2002. On 14 November 2002, it presented its final report, comprising 28 recommendations covering a wide range of issues such as

  • prioritising future RTD efforts,
  • developing a test methodology and validation framework,
  • developing assessment and test methodology for complex Human-Machine Interfaces, and
  • reviewing vehicle legislation.

To monitor the implementation of these recommendations, a more permanent eSafety Forum was established during the first months of 2003.

The Commission's 3rd Road Safety Action Programme (2003)  incorporated the objective of halving the number of deaths on EU roads by 2010. This objective was translated to a maximum figure of 25,000 fatalities a year after the 2004 enlargement.

Key issues include the following:

  • Priorities for the introduction of these technologies need to be set up. To that end, they have to be assessed in terms of their impact on accident reduction and their cost.
  • User awareness and public acceptability of the new technologies need to be enhanced.
  • Changes may have to be made in the legal framework to support the take-up.
  • Standardisation, certification, tax and other incentives need to be considered.

On 15 September 2003, the Commission presented a set of measures to develop safer and more intelligent vehicles with the aim of halving the number of deaths from road accidents by 2010. The Communication also presents possible actions to remove societal and business barriers which prevent the successful introduction and take-up of these systems in Europe. The key actions proposed by the Commission fall into three categories:

  • promoting intelligent vehicle safety systems - e.g. through the development of better Human-Machine Interaction, emergency call services in vehicles (eCall), and Real-Time Traffic and Travel Information (RTTI);
  • adapting the regulatory and standardisation provisions - e.g. removal of barriers to use 24 GHz ultra wide band automative radar (SRR), review of the EC vehicle type-approval legislation;
  • removing societal and business obstacles (e.g. development of a European Code of Practice and elaboration of Industrial Road Maps and corresponding Public Sector Road Maps).

Additionally, the industry is working together with other stakeholders towards the introduction of an emergency call system, termed e-Call. In the case of an accident, this system would initiate an automatic emergency call to the Public Service Answering Point as well as a voice call. Specifications for e-Call have been developed under the e-Merge project that run from April 2002 to March 2004.

Folliwng the adoption of the mid-term review of the 3rd European Road Safety Action Programmes in February 2006, the EU Commissioner for transport policy Jacques Barrot deplored the overall lack of progress at national level. In the meantime, the Commission gave a boost to its new "intelligent car initiative" in the framework of the i2010 initiative to promote information and communication technologies (ICT) (see EURACTIV 22 Feb.2006).

At a conference organised by the Belgian Federation of the Car and Two-wheeler Industries (FEBIAC), a number of industry actors expressed their views on the initiative.

Theo Kamalski, Senior Manager at Siemens VDO Automotive said that, compared with previous telematics initiatives (e.g. TMC), the eSafety project was much more complex, and higher risks and investments were linked to it. One of the major risks he sees is that Member States could opt for incompatible solutions, based on their needs and existing technologies. Kamalski therefore calls for a long-term strategy to ensure future functionality and extendibility at reasonable costs.

To ensure consistency between eSafety and other telematics "building blocks", the eSafety Forum should work closely together with the Telematics Forum, he added. As regards the project's impact in terms of the Commission's strategy to halve road deaths by 2010, he warns that measurable results should not be expected before 2015.

Ivan Hodac, Secretary-General of the European Car Manufacturers Association (ACEA), also doubted that the new technology can quickly deliver. To improve road safety in the short term, a change in drivers' behaviour as well as infrastructure improvements are crucial, he said.

Johann Grill, Director General of the Eurocouncil of the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT) and the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), drew the attention to the fact that the new system initially would not benefit those road users that need it most - novice drivers and accession countries' drivers. They usually drive older cars, while new expensive cars would be the first equipped with the system. Grill therefore calls for tax incentives and insurance rebates as well as the possibility to retrofit the equipment.

The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) regrets that safety organisations have not been invited to join the eSafety Working Group. With regard to "intelligent" safety measures, the NGO says that many of them either have unknown safety benefit, address too small a casualty problem or are not yet practicable. In any case, they cannot replace proven passive safety measures which, according to the experts, represent the "single most effective way of reducing crash injury risk in the short to medium term by vehicle design".

  • 14 september 2005: 2nd eSafety Communication from the Commission - "Bringing eCall to Citizens"
  • 2006: Barrot said he will submit new proposals on cross-border enforcement of road related penalties for approval by the College of Commissioners.
  • 27 april 2006: Parliament adopts the report by Gary TITLEY (PES, UK) on the introduction of the eCall system by 2009

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