As I write, people across the globe are dramatically altering their activities to limit the spread of Covid-19. Many sacrifices are being made and public health is benefiting as a result. Behaviour change will also be required to combat the long-standing health challenge posed by road traffic injuries. Crashes kill approximately 1.35 million people per annum globally. That means that every five years more than the population of Denmark are killed. Speeding is a very well documented risk factor; over 20% of fatal crashes in the UK involve inappropriate speed.
Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) is an in-vehicle technology to help drivers stay within the speed limit. Some cars have a version already and it will be fitted as standard to all new European cars from 2022, with the UK committed to matching this requirement. ISA assesses the current speed limit through satellite global positioning data and dash-cam sign recognition. When the limit is exceeded the ISA cuts fuel transmission, slowing the vehicle down. The current proposal allows drivers to override the system either by turning it off at the start of a journey or by overriding for short periods by pressing hard on the accelerator.
ISA can combat road traffic crashes. The European Transport Safety Commission estimates that ISA could reduce the 26,000 annual road deaths in Europe by 20% and collisions by 30%, if there is “mass adoption and use”.
Achieving mass adoption and use is the key challenge in realising ISA’s potential. The evidence is that many drivers will welcome the technology; in one field-trial, two thirds of drivers would have liked to continue using their ISA device once the trial finished and one third would have paid to keep it. Other drivers, however, may have concerns and effective road safety campaigns will be required to address these issues and emphasise the advantages of ISA to maximise adoption.
Many concerns may be anticipated already and these can be addressed proactively in public health information. For example, there may be worries about how accurately ISA technology will assess speed limits. Such initial problems will need to be corrected. Until that time, the option to override the ISA will address this issue.
Some drivers may worry that the ISA will prevent them from “accelerating out of danger”. Acceleration would not trigger the ISA if the vehicle remains within the speed limit. If there are rare situations where breaking the speed limit is the safest option then, again, the option to override the ISA permits this. Others may be concerned that driving will be less enjoyable when driving with an ISA. Journalists have identified ways that motoring can be fun without driving too fast.
In order to realise the potential benefits of ISA, it is crucial that its introduction is accompanied by road safety campaigns to maximise use. If government agencies and charities can do this effectively then they have a real opportunity to substantially reduce the devastating societal impact of road traffic crashes which are currently the world’s biggest killer of children and young people.
This article was written by Professor Richard Rowe, University of Sheffield