Europe will require “intelligent speed assistance” on cars produced from 2022 and later to limit their speeds. Where Volvo is putting a voluntary cap on the top speed of its cars, this appears to establish speed caps relative to speed limit signs and to road conditions, as well as in special areas such as school zones and hospitals.
European Union officials and automakers both say they want to proceed cautiously to iron out glitches and make sure the infrastructure is ready. Before any of this happens, the proposal has to be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament. Germany in the past has raised concerns that if it can’t build cars that go fast and safely, then one of the advantages of Audi-BMW-Mercedes-Porsche goes by the wayside.
All this will reduce deaths in Europe by 20 percent. Or so the EU hopes. Europe’s fatality rate relative to population is, for the most part, lower than in the US, but it varies widely among countries. The US loses 11 persons per 100,000 population to auto fatalities each year, while about 15 European countries have fatality rates no more than half that of the US. Africa, in general, has the highest fatality rates. The fatality rate also varies by how you calculate accident and fatality rates: per 100,000 people, per 100,000 vehicles, per 100 million miles/1 billion kilometers driven (the best historical indicator).
There is more to the proposed changes than just location-aware speed governors. Among the 30 EU proposals are:
- Automated emergency braking
- Advanced driver distraction systems
- Emergency lane keeping (lane keep assist, lane centering assist, maybe just lane departure warning)
- The ability to temporarily override a speed limit (duration and amount of override TBD)
- Alcohol interlocks
- Emergency stop signal, such as for emergency vehicles
- Event data recorders
- On trucks and buses, ways to “make vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, more visible to the driver (so-called Direct Vision)”
- All big vehicles “will also be equipped with advanced features, such as pedestrian and cyclist collision warning and blind spot information system.”
If approved, the technologies would be mandatory for new (not yet designed) models as of May 2022. Existing models (existing cars in production with no significant changes before 2020) would have to comply by 2024.
As Europe is different from the US, different aspects get attention. Europe has more pedestrians and cyclists relative to cars than we do. It worries about drunk pedestrians walking into moving cars while the US worries about drunk drivers hitting sober or otherwise pedestrians, thus the past focus on European safety included sloped car hoods that reduce the impact severity. There is also more mass transit, thus the focus on putting safety tech on buses.
As for the event-data recorders, the collected data will be anonymous, according to The New York Times. More than a few people on both sides of the Atlantic worry that there will sooner or later be a push for punitive use of EDRs — for instance, to assign fault in accidents or court cases. In the US, the fine print in car-owner manuals says automakers will never hand over your EDR data unless, um, law enforcement demands it, or you sue the automaker claiming their car was defective. (On the plus side, EDRs and other watchers may be the only way bad drivers can get insurance at all if they’re always tracked, and research shows some do, over time, improve their driving.)
The EU already has common crash test standards, since 1998, and mandatory seat belt requirements since 2006. “Despite those rules and others,” The Times cautioned, “25,300 people died and 135,000 were seriously injured on European Union roads in 2017, with speeding cited as a major cause for accidents.” Believe us, you’ll seldom see a news story that doesn’t mention speed as a “major cause” of a traffic death. In truth, speed is often tangential. Consider the drunk driver not wearing a seatbelt who goes off the road at 120 km/h (75 mph) in a 100 zone (62 mph). The 0.12 percent blood alcohol content more likely caused the accident, the lack of a seatbelt probably killed him, and the higher speed made sure he was dead.
The EU also wants to go slow to make sure the infrastructure is ready for changes. Surprisingly, the EU says the lack of consistent signage is a problem. Silly us. When European automakers had speed recognition displays in European-market cars but were slow to put speed sign recognition software on cars sold in the US (the camera would typically parsing the feed of the windshield camera providing forward collision/lane departure warning), they said told us it was because our signs varied from state to state.
In related safety news from earlier in the month, Volvo said it will soon cap the speed on its cars — other than the Polestar performance adjunct — at 180 km/h or 112 mph. Volvo figures that’s fast enough for most roads. Volvo’s goal, whether or not it happens, is that no person in a Volvo will be killed or seriously injured by 2020.
Back to intelligent speed assistance: It appears to mean “assistance” relative to the proper speed for conditions: rainy, foggy or snowy weather for sure, if that calls for speeds below the posted limit. It could also warn or slow drivers ahead of accident sites. The EU appears to be working on the possibility of limiting (or making cars adhere to) speeds in school zones, maybe hospital zones, and maybe near parks. Initially, there would not be speed caps. If there were speed caps (car can’t go faster than X km/h), it would run up against German laws allowing no speed limits on some parts of the Autobahn. Regardless, the EU proposal says drivers could override the car’s speed cap, but it wasn’t clear by how much or for how long, and if the cap normally would be exactly at the limit or, say 5 or 10 km/h over the cap as drivers routinely drive.
Depending on how hard the EU leans on drivers, this kind of control/oversight might make some motorists think, “If I’m already being watched and controlled, and liable for tickets, why not just give up and let the car do the driving?” Which over time would likely lead to fewer accidents and fatalities if you believe autonomous cars are safer.
Even before the speed cap proposal, some motorists are fighting back against controls on their driving. In France, members of the yellow vest protest movement (named after the safety vests drivers must carry) were angered by high fuel taxes and draconian traffic fines, especially those meted out through photo radar. The motorists taped over, spray-painted, vandalized or otherwise rendered hors de combat 60 percent of the country’s photo radar camera devices.
In France, as in the US, some drivers argue photo radar is more about revenue collection than safety. In the US, some private companies who operate photo radar for a cut of the revenue have been caught playing with signal timing — shortening the time the light is yellow — to trap drivers who were still going through the intersection. All this suggests that no matter what the bureaucrats propose and vote on, the EU proposal may get pushback from motorists. While there is no acceptable number of traffic deaths, as Volvo points out, much of Europe is below our US death rate, and the Scandinavian countries have a fatality rate about one-quarter of ours.
As car fatalities go down, or at worst hold stable, in some parts of the world, there’s also the question of what efforts save the most lives most affordably. In recent years in the US, for instance, auto fatalities (deaths in cars, motorcycles, and trucks, plus pedestrians and bicyclists struck down) have been stable at around 35,000, while homicides have climbed to pass 50,000 a year and drug deaths now top 70,000. All of this shouldn’t stop the EU from trying to make cars safer. But it may spur a debate on economic and ethical grounds: Where does the world spend its money to save the most lives?
Let’s block ads! (Why?)
ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech