According to the World Health Organization,  over 1.3 million road deaths occur each year. Human error is by far the cause of most of these deaths, and developed nations across the world are considering new measures and technologies aimed at reducing the number of fatalities. Among these are emerging self-driving and assistance technologies, as well as ‘black box’ recorders and sensors. Furthermore, remote sensor and reporting systems can alert authorities and drivers to environmental hazards.

Reducing human error

Recently the U.S. pulled out of a  global declaration on preventing road deaths, the only nation to do so. This comes at a time when pedestrian deaths caused by motor vehicles are rising sharply: there was a 50% increase in the number of fatalities to SUVs between 2013 and 2017, and a 30% increase to smaller cars. In contrast, the European Union is considering regulations to make a number of technologies mandatory in cars built after 2022. These technologies are aimed at reducing instances of accident-causing human error in drivers, such as warning systems for drowsiness and distraction. Some AI-driven driving assistance technologies will also become mandatory, such as intelligent speed assistance, lane-keeping assistance, and advanced emergency braking technology.

Vulnerable road users are of particular concern for the EU. On top of the aforementioned features, trucks and buses will also require systems to detect and warn of pedestrians and cyclists. Black boxes, devices fitted to cars that record information like speed, braking, and location, are also becoming increasingly popular. The data they gather is helping to decrease insurance costs and acts as crucial evidence in lawsuits relating to a personal traffic accident injury.

Minimizing environmental hazards

While environmental hazards cause far fewer fatalities than human error, they remain an important safety consideration for their potential to cause large accidents. The internet of things (IoT) is expanding to road safety, and the abundance of wireless technologies and miniature sensors are making a number of innovative solutions possible. Recent research has proposed systems for remotely and automatically monitoring the condition of road surfaces and traffic levels in real-time. Furthermore, the IoT is being applied to traffic management through the use of smart traffic lights and camera systems. These technologies, if deployed on a city-wide scale, have the potential to maintain a safe flow of traffic and reduce jams and accidents. These are already in use throughout South Korea, where they monitor the behavior of drivers. Technology companies in Shanghai have collaborated with the police to analyze accident-prone roads. This approach has successfully adjusted the behavior of drivers on these roads and significantly reduced their casualty rates.

While the U.S. currently lags behind in road safety legislation, there are numerous examples leading the fight to reduce traffic-related fatalities globally. Many of the solutions developed by these governments are well within the capabilities of the U.S. government, especially with the collaboration of large tech companies like Google, who have endless analytic and machine learning capabilities. Furthermore, with the advent of self-driving cars, we may see a dramatic reduction in traffic-related fatalities in the next ten years.