‘Roads should be easier for cars to read’

Roads should be easier for cars to read

At the end of last month (30th June, 2011) new statistics showed that 1,857 people were killed in reported road accidents during 2010. This represents a 16 per cent reduction on 2009’s figure.

According to the Department for Transport, the number of serious injuries relating to road crashes (22,660) in 2010 also fell (by eight per cent) as did the number of slight injuries (184,138 – a fall of six per cent).

It will be interesting to note if the number of personal injury claims relating to road accidents also declines. Making a whiplash claim can help people injured in road crashes get the treatment and rehabilitation they need.

Why have road safety figures improved? 

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, thinks that the reduction in the number of road accidents might be due to:

•The economic downturn lowering the number of car users and businesses who can afford to use the road

•Lower speeds

•The harsh winter lowering the amount of road traffic

But the Department for Transport figures also show that there must be no complacency about road safety; there were 111 cyclists killed in 2010, a seven per cent increase since 2009.

This alarming statistic means that research into road safety is still vital. By coincidence, the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) and Euro NCAP teamed up in the same week that the DFT released the new figures, to suggest how road safety could be improved further.

The title of the document the two organisations produced, ‘Roads that Cars Can Read’, sounds like the title of a sci-fi novel set in the distant future.

But the document’s message is very modern: safety technologies which let cars read roads will not work properly if road signs are obstructed or markings are faded.

‘Lane Support’ and ‘Speed Alert’ are two technologies which manufacturers hope will help cars ‘read’ roads.

•Lane Support tracks lane markings to plot the position of the vehicle within lanes and realign drifting vehicles 

•Speed Alert sends drivers a warning when they exceed posted roadside speed limits

Michiel van Ratingen of Euro Ncap, thinks that governments should focus on the ten per cent of roads where most accidents occur. Mr van Ratingen believes that safety could be improved greatly by concentrating on improving the road signs on single carriageways – “Europe’s killing fields”.

He said: “The roadsides of Europe are littered with flowers and shrines. More than a quarter of road deaths involve running off the road, Lane Support gives the driver a warning that’s as physical as hitting a rumble strip.

And the Speed Alert system protects the drivers from missing a speed sign; it’s so useful as limits chop and change.”

But neither of these hi-tech systems will offer much protection if road markings are faded or obscured. If the naked eye cannot see a road marking or speed limit sign then how can a car detect them?

Cars may boast 21st century technology but, as Mr van Ratingen points out: “The key lesson is that what is good for humans is good for machines.”