Life-saving technologies being ignored

‘Smarter’ car technology could save thousands of lives, but consumers are unaware of its benefits.

As part of its Road Safety Action Plan, aimed at halving the number of deaths on EU roads by 2010, the Commission worked with the automobile industry to accelerate the development of new technologies. 

However, automotive suppliers and clubs and road safety authorities have found that although research activities have surged leading to the development of a vast array of smarter and safer technologies for our vehicles, many of these are not being used because users are unaware of their benefits. 

To address this problem, the Commission will support the launch of a ‘Platform for user awareness’ that will launch awareness campaigns to promote the use of new technologies in cars. 

The first campaign will be launched in April 2007 to promote awareness of the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) – a tool that can help drivers maintain control of their vehicle by assisting them in steering and braking – which is proven to reduce accident risk by 20%. 

Information Society Commissioner Vivane Reding said that the Intelligent Car Initiative can save thousands of lives each year and reduce healthcare costs. “The technology is there. Industry is ready to move,” she said but blamed member states for failing to make any progress. “Politics is slow...It's time to move from words to action.”

Mr Rosario Alessi, chairman of the Foundation of the International Automobile Federation, which will chair the platform, said that road accidents not only cause more than 41,000 deaths per year, they also generate huge costs for our society. “The annual costs of accidents with fatalities are estimated at €50 billion and for accidents with severe injuries, the figure is €40.5 billion.” Intelligent vehicle systems can make a “major contribution” towards solving this problem, he said, adding: “These systems save lives, but you need to know they exist to ask for them…It is our job to get [them] to the users as quickly as possible.” 

Caroline Ofoegbu, director of EU Policy at the FIA explains why it is important that the ESC be fitted in all cars and not just in luxury cars as is mostly the case currently: “Statistics show that younger drivers are most at risk of having an accident. They are not the ones likely to be driving luxury cars.” She said that points-of-sale are perhaps not doing enough to promote e-safety to buyers, but also cautioned that the introduction of intelligent technologies must go hand-in-hand with better education about these products, to avoid the risk of people driving more dangerously because they feel safer in their cars. She also pointed out that smarter cars will not only enhance road safety, they can also facilitate mobility for the elderly and disabled. 

European Transport Safety Council Executive Director Jörg Beckmann lamented the fact that certain new technologies which have proven their “life-saving potential”, such as seat belt reminders, alcohol interlocks and intelligent speed assistance (ISA), are “not always given the top priority by policymakers”. 

However, the ETSC also observed that certain ‘intelligent’ safety measures, “have unknown safety benefit, address too small a casualty problem or are not yet practicable”. 

In the short term, the ETSC believes that enforcement of existing standards and rules and increased awareness will bring the quickest results in reducing road deaths. In combination, they can result in a total annual reduction of 14,000 road deaths and 680,000 injuries in the EU, says Beckmann. 

Investigating how people’s habits can be changed by having ICT services available at all times was the aim of a high-level meeting of the Commission’s i2010 initiative, opened on 28 September 2006 by Information Society Commissioner Vivane Reding and Finnish Minister of Transport Susanna Huovinnen. 

One key application of this information society is the ‘smart car’. Indeed, intelligent-vehicle systems can increase road safety and reduce the number of deaths on Europe’s roads. 

Subscribe to our newsletters