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Intelligent Speed Assist technology promises to reduce speeding and accidents

Intelligent Speed Assist technology promises to reduce speeding and accidents
Tristan Honeywill

Professor Oliver Carsten is an expert on speed: the Leeds professor has spent 20 years studying driver behaviour and technologies that help to reduce speeding. His department’s work has examined how drivers behave with speed limit assist systems fitted and how much this can affect other aspects of their driving and vehicle control.

Over the years Carsten has conducted pan-European experiments comparing speed assist systems to other warning technologies. To say he’s convinced that Intelligent Speed Assist systems make a real difference to safety is putting it mildly.

Most people know that speed is a risk factor: the faster you go, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident. “Speed isn’t just a factor in the risk of a crash happening,” says Carsten. “It’s also a big factor in the severity of a crash. As a rule of thumb, if you drive 10% faster, your risk of getting injured in an accident increases by 20%, serious injuries go up by 30% and your chances of being involved in a fatal accident goes up by 40%.”

Speed limits limit accidents

If everybody could keep within the speed limits, there would be around a 30% reduction in injury accidents, about a 34% reduction in serious injury accidents, and about a 46% reduction in fatal accidents. “We could halve the number of people killed on our roads, but it would require total compliance with speed limits,” says Carsten.

Professor Oliver-Carsten

“If you drive 10% faster, your risk of getting injured in an accident increases by 20%, serious injuries go up by 30% and your chances of being killed go up by 40%.”

Professor Oliver Carsten, Leeds University

Total compliance may be the most effective approach, but the in-car speed limiters needed would be a hard-sell. There are no plans for legislation and Euro NCAP is so far just encouraging car makers to fit Intelligent Speed Assist systems that the driver can override. Looking to encourage crash prevention technologies, Euro NCAP gives cars with Speed Assist extra points towards a five-star safety rating.

Are in-car speed limiters the solution?

“If everybody in Europe had these less strict systems fitted in their cars, our research suggests that fatal accidents would reduce by 20%,” says Carsten. “It could be slightly higher as this is UK data and some Eastern and Southern European countries speed more and so would benefit more.”

So far there has been no way of validating these forecasts against accident statistics or insurance claims. Take-up of the technology is yet to reach significant volumes, but that is starting to change. Cars with driver-set speed limiters are already popular.

Are attitudes to speed and speed limits changing?

“Most people don’t want to speed any longer, particularly on urban roads,” says Carsten. “Many already use some kind of speed assist technology to help comply with speed limits, but setting the limit manually is distracting and fiddly.”

Intelligent systems will make life a lot simpler, but some will argue that it limits the driver’s freedom too much. Carsten isn’t one of them. It’s interesting that when people talk about freedom, it’s about the freedom for speed,” he says. “But should people have the freedom to drive through red lights when they choose? Both present risks to safety. Isn’t speeding more like people taking the mickey, abusing their privilege to drive?”

Carsten of course appreciates the fact that people wanting to go fast is not totally unreasonable. People do it for a lot of reasons, partly for thrills, but also for the sensible reason that they want to minimise their journey time.

“People put a value on their time and the less you spend on your journey, the better,” he says. “It’s not completely crazy to want to go faster, but there are large conflicts with safety and traffic efficiency. Very fast vehicles in the traffic stream act as disturbances and cause problems for other traffic. It’s a trade-off and we have to make travel efficient and safe for everybody.”

What would make a good speed-assist system?

Euro NCAP wants to promote systems with a warning that is audible and persistent. Systems that intervene could be nicer to live with, however, says Carsten: “A system beeping at you all the time is annoying and alerts passengers. That might improve behaviour but it’s like having the car point a finger at you.”

The alternative would be a system linked to the engine so that unless you push a lot harder on the gas, you can’t drive above the speed limit (or at least only a fraction). The accuracy of digital maps will have to improve as well. Euro NCAP recommends systems that are backed up with a camera that reads the road signs as well.

Who would benefit most?

Intelligent speed assist technologies will be useful for young male drivers who are more prone to speed. “They are also more prone to overriding the speed assist system,” says Carsten. “Even so, our studies show the benefit for them is greatest. The technologies were more effective in reducing very high speeds for drivers in their 20s and 30s than for older drivers aged 41-60.”

Speed Assist technologies prevent crash situations from developing and they have major potential to save lives. They have been mentioned in the European Commission’s Transport White Paper, but it’s not clear how soon they could be made mandatory. Their effect on safety could be as great as the introduction of seatbelts. In the meantime, Euro NCAP’s support for the technology will encourage car makers to fit the systems for customers.

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