Five technology innovations that could make driving safer in Europe
Driving for work is one of the most dangerous activities an employee can undertake, making it imperative for businesses to do all they can to minimise risk.
According to recent figures, an estimated 19,800 people were killed in road crashes across Europe during 2021, an increase of five per cent on 2020.
Although there has been a slight reduction on pre-pandemic levels (-13 per cent), numbers remain high.
Advances in safety technology, however, continue apace and developments in this space continue to offer one of the most meaningful ways for organisations to manage occupational road risk. Some systems, such as telematics, are already widely used, but there are other tech developments on the horizon that may start becoming established features in vehicles over the next few years.
Here, we share five innovations that could revolutionise European road safety.
Augmented reality windscreens
Head-up displays projecting vehicle information, such as speed and music choice, into the driver’s line of sight on the windshield are quickly becoming commonplace in new vehicles – and augmented reality (AR) is set to take these to a new level.
One of the main benefits of head-up displays is an improvement in road safety. Glancing away from the road for just two seconds can increase the risk of an accident from four to 24 times- so having key information in the driver’s field of vision means they can keep their eyes ahead.
AR superimposes this information, along with virtual objects, onto the real-world environment around the vehicle. Volkswagen’s ID. range, for example, displays navigation guidance using arrows on the road 10 metres in front of the vehicle, informing the driver which turn to take. Swedish automaker, Volvo, has invested in a start-up that uses AR to warn drivers of approaching moose.
Samsung also presented their vision of AR-powered self-driving vehicles earlier this year, explaining how ‘see-through’ technology will allow a driver to see what’s in front of the vehicle, as well as displaying outlines of dangers ahead in poor visibility conditions.
In-vehicle driver health sensors
From 2024, new European regulations will require automotive manufacturers to fit Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) in vehicles that warn of driver distraction and fatigue.
DMS are built on artificial intelligence (AI) and use technology such as infrared cameras to monitor facial expressions, eye movements and body positions to help identify risky body language and emotions. If the system deems the driver’s health and wellbeing to be in a diminished state, an automatic alert will be triggered.
Essentially, the car will become akin to a smartwatch. Mitsubishi Electric, for example, has developed a new DMS that measures a motorist’s heart rate and responsiveness. In the event the driver’s alertness level drops below a predetermined threshold, or they have a seizure, heart attack or stroke, an alarm sounds in a bid to rouse the driver. Should they remain unresponsive, the vehicle will slow and pull up at the side of the road.
Meanwhile, IAV has joined forces with the University of Oldenburg, to create a digital health assistant – also known as ‘The Car That Cares’. The driver’s pulse and respiratory rate are measured through a chest strap, creating a driver profile and transmitting these to the vehicle, enabling it to detect anomalies, such as breathing problems, heart attacks or loss of consciousness. Further measuring capabilities are in the pipeline, including the monitoring of oxygen saturation and sugar levels.
Elsewhere, Cipia’s Driver Sense solution measures how many times a person is blinking to spot signs of drowsiness. It can also identify other potential distracted driving behaviours, such as looking a phone or smoking a cigarette.
Other systems are being developed that incorporate heart, blood rate and air cushion sensors to detect body posture.
Vehicle-to-everything – or V2X – technology is the term for a vehicle communicating with its surrounding environment in real-time, whether with another car, a traffic light or other forms of physical infrastructure.
Some cars have already been equipped with this functionality, and the number is expected to hit 35.1 million by 2025, according to Berg Insight.
From a road safety perspective, using information such as direction of travel, speed and positional data from vehicles, people and infrastructure can help reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. When relayed to drivers, it can give them more time to react by offering them a 360-degree awareness of their surroundings and allowing them to ‘see’ around corners and blind spots.
Vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) technology, for example, enables the car to communicate with a pedestrian’s smart device, sharing the person’s location and whether they need more time to cross the road.
It can also inform a driver of the vehicle ahead emergency braking, with studies finding 50 per cent of vehicles equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology reduced the rear-end collision rate by 20 to 30 per cent.
Drivers can also be warned of unexpected and invisible dangers. Honda is working with Verizon to develop V2X that uses smart cameras to alert motorists to ‘hidden’ pedestrian at crossings, while their software can also communicate with nearby traffic when an emergency vehicle is set to run a red light.
EuroNCAP has stated that from 2027 if a car does not have V2X installed, it will not receive its five-star award.
Many technologies sit under the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) umbrella – from automatic emergency braking to blind spot monitoring – with some proving more popular than others.
Global automotive manufacturer Honda, however, has taken the system one step further, recently announcing the world’s first AI-powered Intelligent Driver Assistive Technology.
Honda delved into the science behind human driving errors, using functional MRIs to study the brain and analyse risk-taking behaviours. It then created a system that uses ADAS sensors and cameras to assess the surrounding environment and identify potential driving risks using AI. At the same time, the AI will use the sensors and cameras to presume predictors of driver errors and provide assistance tailored to their cognitive state and surrounding traffic.
Honda’s aim is to completely eradicate human error behind the wheel, setting a goal of zero fatalities in a Honda vehicle by 2050.
Normal in-vehicle cameras are a powerful tool to help combat road risk, but they have their limitations. Just like normal cameras, lighting plays a part in their effectiveness, so if the sun is shining directly into the lens, it is too dark or if the motorist is driving in poor weather conditions, pedestrians or other objects may not be detected.
However, thermal imaging cameras are on the way. These can detect objects through temperature, ensuring they work successfully regardless of the conditions outside the vehicle. Drivers are then alerted to approaching hazards, such as pedestrians, giving them enough time to react and avoid a collision.