Protecting the unprotected, pt.1 – Safe in the city

Protecting the unprotected, pt.1 – Safe in the city

Unprotected road users – that is, pedestrians, cyclists, riders of motorbikes and the like – account for roughly a third of all who are killed or seriously injured in crashes involving trucks. Trucks, on a whole, are involved in about 15% of all fatal road crashes in Europe. So, clearly the issue deserves much more attention.

Anytime I speak about our way of working with safety I always mention our safety vision – Zero Accidents – because it not only states what we are striving for it also reveals a lot about our path towards that target.

Road safety, probably more than any other challenge in the transport system, requires the collaborative effort of many stakeholders making progress in several areas, like infrastructure, legislation, enforcement, behaviour, and vehicle technology.

So we invariably need to rely on progress being made in other areas. Collaborating with others in R&D ensures access to and sharing of know-how, and being an active stakeholder assisting policy makers ensures a common roadmap and makes it more likely that our individual efforts will reinforce one another.

Reaching Zero Accidents will, by definition, require us to develop solutions that act to prevent risky situations from emerging – which, by the way, I expect will be the main safety benefit of automated driving – and to take action automatically in emergency situations to mitigate a crash – what we call active safety.

More to the point of this article though, Zero Accidents implies taking a holistic responsibility in making sure we achieve safety for all road users who come in contact with our vehicles, not least the unprotected.

The safety of unprotected road users is a top priority in European transport policy today. It is a priority because this group has not seen the same progress in road safety as occupants of motor vehicles, whose relatively improved safety levels is a direct result of political and industry priority. Although it is worth mentioning that vehicle occupants still represent the majority of road fatalities.

Since 2010 road fatalities in Europe have fallen by about 19%, but progress has stagnated, and the share of serious injuries involving unprotected road users is increasing. This negative trend is aggravated by the huge influx of people into cities and the increasing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians taking to the streets for health and wellbeing reasons, and as a result of the political push for sustainable mobility.

What this means is, more people are moving about as unprotected road users in a road system which is still largely designed around motor vehicles, and many cities are in a perpetual state of building and construction. As a result more pedestrians and cyclists end up getting seriously injured.

There are hundreds of reasons why these incidents happen. But, the inevitable conclusion is that the urban environment must improve as a safe system.

Different cities employ different strategies in managing this challenge. Some are quite progressive in putting cycling as a priority; creating dedicated infrastructure and employing various schemes directed at commercial vehicle operators and manufacturers to make this transformation successful and safe. I’m thinking of cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London.

One of the things I’ve been up to this year is to visit representatives of these cities together with a team of safety specialists at Volvo. I wanted a chance to better understand their take on their city and compare and contrast this to other cities – to validate or modify our own view of what the challenges are. I’d also like to think that sitting down with an OEM was a valuable and unique opportunity for those we met. 

You learn a lot when discussing with not only city authorities, researchers and operators, but local charities and interest groups who are doing the advocating and lobbying for pedestrian and cyclists’ interests. These local charities have unique perspectives and are very knowledgeable about what it means to make a city a liveable. They see first-hand the impact of policy decisions and technology, or lack thereof. For them safety is not a target for tomorrow – it is a demand for today. 

There is good reason for being concerned about the current situation. But, it should be reassuring to know that the priority of policy makers and of the automotive industry in general and Volvo in particular, is to vastly improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

End of part 1

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