A little help to slow down

7 October 2020

Road deaths in Europe have not declined in recent years, and speeding plays a significant role in these. Germany, for example, reports 963 people dead and 53,687 injured due to inappropriate speed in 2019. To improve road safety, tackling speed is therefore essential.

While manufacturers are excited about the new possibilities that automated vehicles bring, there’s a more basic automated system that could make a big change in keeping road accidents down: intelligent speed assistance. Intelligent speed assistance is a key technology for helping drivers avoid speeding, and, if implemented correctly, could eventually reduce road deaths by 20% – a game-changer.

As a draft delegated act, which may undermine this goal, is making its way on the Member States’ Representatives’ table on 8 October, Eurocities has addressed them to ensure ambition is kept in place, why?

Imagine two drivers, Sara and Ann, each driving their car back home from a long day at work. Both reach a long stretch of road and hit the speed limit. In Sara’s car, the intelligent speed assistance starts beeping, while Ann notices a clear, strong resistance when trying to accelerate further. This happens a few times throughout their journeys.

Sara’s system was tested at a lower accuracy level and, with the low light of the evening, it reads a handful of speed limits wrong. Annoyed by the beeping and the incorrect readings, Sara is tempted to completely deactivate her system by pushing a simple button, part of her steering wheel commands. Ann’s system was tested with a higher accuracy level, but if it read some signs incorrectly, Ann could easily temporarily deactivate it. However, she would only be able to completely turn the system off by finding a place to stop and going through several steps. Instead, she lightens her foot off the pedal and continues to drive.

What Eurocities is advocating for with its letter to the Member States’ Representatives in the Motor Vehicle Working Group is for drivers to be in Ann’s position, rather than Sara’s. Because:

  • There is evidence that an intelligent speed assistance technology that only relies on ‘cascaded acoustic warnings’, as proposed in the delegated act, will be annoying to the drivers’ experience and therefore likely to be switched off. According to the evidence, the best available options are either ‘haptic feedback’, which uses increased force feedback on the accelerator control making it harder to accelerate, or a ‘speed control function’ which limits engine power.
  • A single step total deactivation of the system will put the driver literally a click away from not using the system at all. While the system should be temporarily overridable until a new speed limit is detected – to allow the driver to respond to an incorrect speed limit – total deactivation should only be possible when the vehicle is at a standstill, through a sequence of actions. This is currently the standard for similar technologies such as the advanced emergency braking systems which allows cars to break for a driver when unexpected entities come into a collision course with the vehicle.
  • Lower standards of accuracy for speed limit detection will impact both the actual effectiveness of the overall system, and driver acceptance. As signs are read in optimal conditions during tests, rather than real driving situations, the accuracy standard needs to be well above 90% to have real effects in actual driving conditions.

If we are ready to test fully automated vehicles, shouldn’t we be willing to equip our drivers with the most effective intelligent speed assistance technology first?