The Road Safety Roundabout – Technology

An area where there can be few doubts about the impacts of safety is in the areas of technology as vehicles, roads, materials, training, regulation, and more have had a positive impact on reducing lives lost on Australia’s roads.

As we navigate the road safety roundabout, in this blog we look at technologies that have helped, but also pose the question, are we in danger of creating a backlash against technology?

Vehicles used to be fairly simple. Engine at the front, 4 wheels, a combination of seating, storage and running gear. So, it was only natural that advancements in vehicle technology made vehicles safer.

Modern cars come equipped with various safety features aimed at protecting occupants in the event of a crash and preventing crashes altogether. Here are five top safety features commonly found in modern vehicles:

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC): ESC helps prevent skidding and loss of control by automatically applying brakes to individual wheels and, in some cases, reducing engine power when it detects loss of traction. This feature is particularly effective in helping drivers maintain control during emergency manoeuvres and on slippery roads.
  • Anti-lock Braking System (ABS): ABS prevents the wheels from locking up during hard braking, allowing the driver to maintain steering control and avoid skidding. By pulsating the brakes rapidly, ABS helps vehicles stop more effectively on slippery surfaces and reduces the risk of accidents caused by loss of control during braking.
  • Advanced Airbag Systems: Modern vehicles are equipped with advanced airbag systems that include frontal airbags for the driver and front passenger, side airbags, curtain airbags, and sometimes even knee airbags. These airbags deploy rapidly in the event of a crash to cushion occupants and reduce the risk of injury from impacts with the vehicle’s interior.
  • Forward Collision Warning (FCW) with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): FCW systems use sensors, such as radar or cameras, to detect potential collisions with vehicles or objects ahead. When a collision is imminent, AEB systems can automatically apply the brakes or assist the driver in applying maximum braking force to mitigate or avoid the collision altogether. This feature is particularly effective in preventing rear-end collisions.
  • Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA): LDW systems monitor the vehicle’s position within its lane and provide visual, auditory, or haptic warnings if the vehicle unintentionally drifts out of its lane. LKA systems go a step further by actively steering the vehicle back into its lane if the driver fails to respond to the warnings. These features help prevent accidents caused by lane drifting and drowsy or distracted driving.

These safety features, along with others such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and tyre pressure monitoring systems, contribute to making modern cars safer than ever before.

The Technology Rebellion

However, and this is anecdotal evidence only, are we starting to become complacent due to technology and, in some instances, rebelling against it?

“On a recent trip, I had to hire a car,” says Civil Project Partners’ Ryan O’Neill. “It was one of the most unnecessarily stressful experiences I have had on the road. There was nothing wrong with the car – it was brand new and had all the bells and whistles, but that was the problem.”

“The car beeped and buzzed incessantly. Every few seconds, there would be a warning alert without anything to drive the alert. You changed lanes, and the car beeped like a sound system at a rave. Worse yet, the steering wheel aggressively self-corrected, so much so that it felt like the car was trying to rip it out of your hands.”

“You then have the massive screen to contend with, constantly updating, dropping in inaccurate models of surrounding traffic, adding unnecessary information and distraction to a drive. The screen also took care of everything that used to be done by buttons and switches on a console, now needed to be done while navigating the screen and its layers of menu.”

“I have nothing against the use of technology, but sometimes, when technology takes over, it doesn’t do so in a positive way; if anything, driving the car felt like going on the world’s longest road trip with the planet’s most annoying back seat driver. If I owned the car, I would be tempted to try and find a way to turn off the ‘active’ safety features as driving felt far less safe and far more stressful without them,” said Ryan.

Road Technology

However, we have not seen significant progress just in vehicle technology. Significant advances have also been made in embedding technology into road infrastructure to help minimise risks, improve safety, and support road users with real-time information and insights.

  • Traffic Management Systems play a crucial role in enhancing safety. These systems regulate traffic flow, minimise congestion, and optimise road usage, thus reducing the risk of crashes. With efficient traffic management systems in place, the likelihood of traffic jams decreases, resulting in smoother and safer travel for commuters. By coordinating traffic signals, managing lane assignments, and controlling access to highways, these systems contribute significantly to accident prevention by ensuring orderly and predictable traffic patterns.
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) represent a significant advancement in traffic safety measures. By integrating ITS, real-time data sharing can be enabled among vehicles and infrastructure, supporting informed decision-making for drivers. Through technologies like traffic monitoring cameras, variable message signs, and dynamic route guidance systems, ITS enhances awareness of road conditions and potential hazards, thereby reducing the likelihood of accidents. By providing up-to-date information on traffic congestion, weather conditions, and road closures, ITS empowers drivers to make safer choices and adapt their routes accordingly.
  • Connected Vehicle Technology, including vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, will play a vital role in improving traffic safety. By enabling vehicles to exchange information with each other and with roadside infrastructure, connected vehicle technology enhances situational awareness and facilitates proactive collision avoidance. Through features such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and intersection collision warning, connected vehicles can prevent fatalities by alerting drivers to potential hazards and taking corrective actions autonomously.

However, all smart technologies will have a lag as they become standard on new models but may not be retrofitted to the 1994 heap of junk that speeds through your suburb or snakes aggressively across lanes on the highway.

Technology is also not foolproof, as was seen when artist Simon Weckert tricked Google Maps into thinking there was a traffic jam in central Berlin by pulling a collection of 99 mobile phones in a small cart along the city streets to highlight the relationship we have with technology. 

“What I’m really interested in generally is the connection between technology and society and the impact of technology, how it shapes us,” Weckert says. He cites philosopher Marshall McLuhan: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. “I have the feeling right now that technology is not adapting to us, it’s the other way around.”

As emerging technology continues to evolve, Australia stands to benefit from advancements such as autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). These technologies, equipped with improved sensing capabilities and sophisticated collision avoidance features, have the potential to revolutionise traffic safety by reducing human error, which is a leading cause of accidents.

Autonomous vehicles, capable of navigating roads without human intervention, promise to enhance safety by eliminating factors such as driver distraction and fatigue. Meanwhile, ADAS supplements human drivers by providing real-time alerts and assistance in critical situations, thus reducing the risk of collisions and improving overall road safety standards. 

However, at this stage, neither humans nor technology are perfect, and it could be argued that we are too reliant on each other when driving. Could overconfidence be an emerging issue on our roads as we believe we can overly rely on systems and ourselves, neither of which are foolproof?

Let us know your thoughts on the reason for the increase in the number of our community being killed and injured on the roads.

Comments are closed.