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Active safety tech misunderstood, misused

Multi-faceted: Education, enforcement, funding, cooperation, licensing and affordability play a role in reducing the road toll.

Parliamentary road safety report finds tech needs support to properly reduce road toll

3 May 2022

AN AUSTRALIAN federal parliamentary report into road safety says numerous hurdles stand in the way of a technology-based reduction of the national road toll.


Driving Reform: Final Report for the Inquiry into Road Safety details the causes of fatal and serious road collisions in Australia and incorporates suggestions as to how to effectively reduce the likelihood of such incidents recurring.


The report was compiled with the assistance of safety bodies such as the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA), Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) and Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC).


It makes recommendations pertaining to road-user education, law enforcement, state and government funding, intergovernmental cooperation, licensing requirements and the affordability of in-car safety technology.


Submissions to the committee responsible for the report suggested poor road planning, insufficient or outdated cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure, substandard road maintenance programs – especially in regional areas – and technology-derived driver complacency were key contributors to the country’s rising road toll.


The report recognised the safety and driver assistance technologies offered in newer vehicles and commended the work of some safety bodies in mandating the systems in selected vehicle categories.


However, it said that such strategies were of little benefit to low-income road users (who tend to drive older vehicles) and those in remote regional areas, where incompatible road infrastructure negated several benefits of such systems. 


To this end, the report called for subsidies to be offered to motorists in such circumstances.


It also acknowledged that many owners of vehicles equipped with potentially life-saving safety and driver-assistance technologies did not understand how the systems worked or had become too dependent on the technologies.


The report cautioned that advanced driver-assistance and autonomous driving systems may lead to driver complacency, with the HFESA saying many drivers place unrealistic expectations on the technologies.


HFESA’s submission was reiterated by ANCAP, which said that some automated systems could result in people disengaging with the driving process, adding that such technologies should strive to maintain the attention of drivers and, importantly, that they should be educated on how such systems were bound to respond at critical moments.


ARSF went further, saying technology training would be particularly beneficial to drivers who had acquired their licences long before the advent of active safety systems. It also proposed that terminology related to such technologies be standardised.


In addition, MUARC raised concerns relating to the capacity of telecommunications infrastructure in the context of connected autonomous vehicles and on maintaining and improving existing road infrastructure such as markings and traffic signs and signals.


While recognising potential limitations owing to the scale of Australia’s road network, it said that, considering all existing active driver assistance and safety technologies were in some way reliant on such infrastructure, roads needed to be maintained to the highest possible standard to ensure that the vehicle technologies would operate optimally.

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