Policing Insight and DriveTech have come together to offer readers a webinar “Are we ready for the biggest ever overhaul of mandatory vehicle safety requirements?” to discuss the implications of the White Paper and consider its implications for the future of roads policing. You can hear from the report’s author as well as an expert panel, including Dr Helen Wells, Director of the Roads Policing Academic Network and John Apter, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales. The webinar takes place on Thursday 18th June from 11am to midday, and you can register to join it here.
In my previous article for Policing Insight, I described how DriveTech has been involved in managing the current exceptional situation we are all facing. In this piece, I want to take a look into the future and anticipate changes that have already been agreed which will have implications for all involved in policing our roads. It is the result of a collaboration between the European Union and the World Health Organisation who have been working together to reinvigorate the downward trend in road casualty numbers.
There are some worrying risks associated with embracing the new technology – risks that should be of concern to the roads policing community.
Following an assessment of the most likely methods of reducing fatalities and improving road safety, the EU Commission published a report for the European Parliament and the European Council in December 2016 entitled “Saving Lives: Boosting Car Safety in the EU”. This has provided the basis for new legislation that covers the design of new vehicles across the member states. New legislation was proposed in 2018 and enacted on 27 November 2019 in amended form and even though the United Kingdom has left the European Union, it is still committed to adopt the new rules.
Under the new regulations, all new cars, vans, Sports Utility Vehicles and pick-ups will be obliged to have a range of safety features fitted as standard. These include:
- Intelligent speed assistance – or speed limiters, which have the ability to reduce engine power to prevent the vehicle being driven at excess speed
- Advanced emergency braking system, automatically detecting a potential collision and performing emergency braking without any intervention from the driver
- Emergency lane-keeping system, to steer the vehicle back into lane if a danger is detected
- Lane departure warning system, to alert the driver if a vehicle is drifting out of lane
- Driver drowsiness and attention warning, to use data from the vehicle’s systems to assess the driver’s alertness and issue warnings if required
- Driver distraction warning, helping the driver to continue to pay attention and warning the driver when he or she is distracted
- Event data recorder, effectively a form of “black box,” as used in aviation to record information from before, during and immediately after a collision.
The list doesn’t end there: there are also provisions for reversing detection, tyre pressure monitoring, and emergency stop signal and even an interface to fit an alcohol interlock installation. It’s a dizzying array of technology which aims to have a huge impact on driving risk factors. Surely this is an unambiguously good thing?
It is by no means clear the drivers will know how to safely use the new equipment.
At DriveTech, we commissioned industry experts to try and answer that question and the result is a white paper which we published recently. The report was based on research by Ian Bint, the former head of roads policing in South Yorkshire and drew heavily on the contributions of Dr Helen Wells, director of the Roads Policing Academic Network. The paper found that there are some worrying risks associated with embracing the new technology – risks that should be of concern to the roads policing community. Some of these risks relate to the equipment itself and some to its impact on drivers.
Firstly, it is by no means clear the drivers will know how to safely use the new equipment. It is a common complaint from new owners of technologically advanced vehicles that they do not receive a sufficient handover or briefing from motor dealers or vehicle leasing companies about how to use them. By the very nature of the vehicles, it’s likely that we are talking about more mature, experienced drivers in today’s market: when the new measures are introduced, they will apply to all vehicles and all drivers – not just a small number of enthusiastic embracers of new technology.
Secondly, there is the risk that the systems will induce a false sense of security. Drivers, like any system operators, can become lazy and (in this case) surrender decision making to the vehicle and fail to identify risky situations themselves. In effect, they become a passenger in the driving seat. On our busy roads, the dangers are obvious and with the Department for Transport predicting the growth of traffic on the strategic roads network to increase by 46% between 2010 and 2040, that danger will only grow.
If the voice activated search engine on your computer works correctly for 95% of the time, it can be a useful labour-saving device. A critical safety feature on a vehicle travelling at 70mph, which is prone to error on one in every 20 activations, is an altogether different matter.
Thirdly, the white paper revealed that some of these technologies have alarmingly high error rates. The plan had originally been for many of the technologies to be “always on” but the ability to deactivate them has been built in as it is understood they will be susceptible to error from time to time – up to 5% of the time in fact. That worries me. If the voice activated search engine on your computer works correctly for 95% of the time, it can be a useful labour-saving device. A critical safety feature on a vehicle travelling at 70mph, which is prone to error on one in every 20 activations, is an altogether different matter.
The basic instruments of a vehicle on British roads changed very little in the 50 years to 2010 but the last decade has witnessed a dramatic transformation. Drivers taking delivery of top of the range cars today are confronted by a very unfamiliar, yet highly technologically complex device. It is no exaggeration to say that their complexity exceeds those of even rudimentary aircraft or trains, yet pilots and locomotive drivers receive regular, regimented retraining and assessment.
As our vehicles become ever more complex and their safety features more intrusive, and as the pace of change of those features increases inexorably, it is time to open the debate about licensing arrangements for drivers. Many have felt for a long time that it is simply not sufficient to allow a driver to rely throughout their adult lives on a test they took, quite possibly, in their teens.
I believe that the introduction of these compulsory safety measures provides an ideal opportunity to consider a future regime for lifelong driver training. We are convinced that some re-education is necessary to ensure that the changes that will be rolled out over the next four years will deliver on their ambition to improve road safety. The team at DriveTech looks forward to taking part in that necessary debate.
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