Talking cars: the road safety saviour

Vehicles which could talk to each other would improve road safety outcomes before driverless technology could, according to the State’s peak motoring body.

The Australian reported a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, showed while human error played a role in almost all crashes, self-driving cars would struggle to avoid the same mistakes.

However, RACQ Head of Public Policy Rebecca Michael said the level of crash reduction was dependent not just on the vehicle’s technologies but a wide range of factors, including the infrastructure, communications, mix of vehicles and other road users.

“The effectiveness of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in preventing crashes will also be impacted by fleet composition, that is the mix between human and cars with Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS),” Dr Michael said.

“The potential for AVs to improve road safety outcomes is strengthened by connectivity between vehicles, infrastructure and the Internet of Things, enabling them to communicate with each other to avoid crashes.

“For example, if an AV brakes hard to avoid an obstacle, it can send a vehicle to vehicle message to other connected cars to take evasive action which may prevent a rear end crash. A non-connected vehicle travelling behind the AV would not receive this information and would rely on the human driver’s reaction to prevent a crash.

“We’re already seeing Volvo use this technology to deliver their Slippery Road Alert system in Sweden and Norway where connected cars collect information about dangerous road conditions and send this information to other connected vehicles.”

Dr Michael said there was a level of risk when systems relied on a transfer of control from the AV to human in situations too complex for an AV to deal with.

“Many of the fatalities in AV trials have been because the system relied on the human to monitor the AV and take back control,” she said.

“The risk associated with the transfer of control has led to some manufacturers skipping level 3 or 4 automation, which shares control between the vehicle and driver, in favour of working towards level 5, which will provide a higher level of vehicle autonomy.

“So, in the meantime we will see further innovation in the Level 2 category of ADAS which are things like lane keep assistance, adaptive cruise control, automatic breaking and improved connectivity.

“While connectivity and autonomous technology have the potential to reduce or remove human error from the driving task, it is important that we undertake trials and research to ensure that they are safe before they are introduced into our communities.”