Cutting-edge digital communication technologies allowing cars to interpret their surroundings and alert drivers to potential hazards could reduce vehicle crashes by up to 78 per cent, according to new Australian research.
The eight-month project undertaken by researchers at the University of Melbourne involved a comprehensive analysis of Victorian traffic accident data alongside traffic microsimulation studies.
Researchers focused on understanding cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS) technologies. C-ITS vehicle adaptations include cameras, ultrasonic or wireless sensors, antennas, 3D HD mapping capabilities, GPS and Lidar, a light pulsing laser device which accurately measures distances.
The study concluded that if just 30 per cent of all vehicles on the roads during peak hour were connected vehicles, traffic congestion could be reduced by up to 11 per cent.
A separate network microsimulation in Melbourne’s CBD during peak hour conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic found that average travel speeds could improve by up to 10 per cent if a fifth of cars were connected vehicles.
In the 12 months to October 2020, there were 1118 road deaths in Australia, or 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people per year. The four leading causes of fatal car accidents in Australia are speeding, alcohol consumption, driver fatigue and inattention or distraction while driving — all of which are preventable.
Transport Engineering Chair at the University of Melbourne Professor Majid Sarvi said the research has the potential to dramatically reduce trauma and the road toll.
“Our analysis of Victorian Road Safety data shows that with eight significant connected safety focuses, we have the ability to reduce the incidence of crashes by up to 78 per cent and make vehicle transport safer for all road users,” he said.
Ahead of the curve
‘Talking’ technology helps drivers in areas such as lane guidance, curve speed, collision avoidance, do not pass and blind spot warnings, intersection movement and right turn assistance, plus pedestrian safety messages.
The research highlighted a number of risk factors for different scenarios. For example, curve speed was a factor in 17 per cent of crashes involving motorbikes, and could have the most impact in reducing accidents in rural areas, where 52 per cent of Victorian fatal accidents occurred (compared to 37 per cent of all fatal crashes occurring in urban areas of Melbourne.)
“One in five cars on Victorian roads are considered older, but they are involved in 36 per cent of all fatal crashes,” Professor Sarvi said.
“By contrast, newer vehicles [built between 2012-2017] make up 31 per cent of road vehicles but are involved in just 12 per cent of fatal crashes.”
Though the research used 15 years of Victorian crash data, the researchers believe it is applicable nationwide, where similar C-ITS uptake has the potential to reduce crashes, save lives and improve travel times.
The findings also tally with research in the United States (US) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which estimated that vehicle-to-vehicle communications could reduce accidents by up to 80 per cent.
The next phase
The research was funded by iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre, an applied research body for the transport industry. iMove Managing Director Ian Christensen welcomed the findings.
“C-ITS is a technology whose time has arrived, and based on research, not only by our research partners in Australia but all around the world, we know lives will be saved if this technology is implemented widely,” he said.
“Making the adoption of C-ITS a national priority will bring major social and economic benefits, lead to greater transport efficiency and, most importantly, increased safety.”
The technology also may be more palatable for the public and regulators alike than self-driving cars deployed in the US, which has been beset by problems.
Last year, a self-driving vehicle from ride-hailing app Uber killed a 48-year-old woman after it failed to recognise the jaywalking pedestrian and its braking system was not designed to avoid an imminent collision.
Transport lobby group ITS Australia, which was involved in the study, said that C-ITS technology is critical for Australian transport users.
“This research shows the vital importance of transport technologies in both reducing road trauma and improving our transport networks,” ITS Australia CEO Susan Harris said.
“Supporting the deployment of these road safety and efficiency technologies is a key issue for ITS Australia and our members.”