How the EU is harnessing vehicle tech to save lives

Innovation has been a constant in the history of road vehicles. From the precision engineering of the motors to the sleek contour designs, all the way to the many dials on the dashboard, cars and trucks have improved in countless ways over the years. Now, as our vehicles adopt a new generation of information technologies, policy makers in Europe want to harness these advances for a specific purpose: road safety.

MEPs voted on February 21 for a potentially life-saving speed-control system on all new cars. The speed limiters, known as Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), use GPS data and possibly traffic sign recognition to determine a road’s speed limit and then limit engine power to match that speed. The MEPs in the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee mandated that by 2022, all new cars and trucks should include the system.

The speed limiter measure is one of many included in the update of the EU’s 2009 General Vehicle Safety (GSR) Regulation. Other safety features that should be installed in new vehicles include intelligent speed assistance, advanced emergency-braking system and an emergency stop signal, as well as an alcohol interlock, a driver drowsiness and attention warning, reversing detection, a tyre pressure monitoring system, and an accident data recorder.

An advanced emergency-braking system and a lane-departure warning system – already compulsory for trucks and buses under the current GSR Regulation – will now be required for new passenger cars.

Saving 15.000 lives

MEPs say the combined measures could save 15,000 lives over the next 15 years. They still have to be confirmed by the European Parliament’s full plenary, but that is expected to be a formality.

Road fatalities in Europe have plummeted over the years, falling by more than half since 2001, from 54,900 just after the turn of the century to 25,260 in 2017, according to the latest EU statistics. That means 49 fatalities per million inhabitants annually, compared to a global average of 174. At the same time, the number of passenger cars on Europe’s roads rose from just over 200 million to 259.7 million during the same period. This represents a remarkable success story.

Nonetheless, road safety remains an EU priority, and the recent focus has been on so-called active safety measures: avoiding emergency situations altogether, or at least by actively helping the driver to manage them properly. The technologies behind active safety systems can prevent or mitigate an accident pre-impact, so before it actually happens or contact is made.

All this is part of a trend that Europe can be proud of. Both policymakers and vehicle manufacturers have developed measures to make it safer than ever to use the roads in one of the most demanding markets in the world.