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The Future of Risk: The Impacts of New Technology

The Future of Risk: The Impacts of New Technology

Article written by Dr Sam Chapman


With 1.3 million fatalities occurring on the world’s roads every year, and an estimated 60million receiving serious injuries, road risk is fundamentally one of the biggest impacts on our wellbeing. In fact, road risk causes at least 22times as many fatalities as warfare.

Despite these horrific figures, the situation used to be a lot worse. As new awareness, regulation and safer systems have been adopted the risks have continued to decrease over time. Add to that, an ever upward increase in vehicle miles travelled, and this is a very positive trend.

However, a closer look at more recent history highlights a decline in the rate of this risk reduction, with gains levelling off at the same time technology is still advancing.

So as we continue to add new technologies, what will be the future effect on risk?

Investigations in this area by The Floow have led to numerous world leading research projects, for example the MOVE_UK project.

MOVE_UK brings together world leading organisations to investigate the impact of new vehicle technologies upon risk. This aims to better understand emerging changes and the risk they may alter. The work looks to evolve regulation and data usage to decrease the impacts of emergent risk from new technology.

In order to understand these impacts, it is vital to understand how risk is mitigated.

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The risk of any vehicle travelling at speed is inherently high for both vehicles and people in the surrounding area. However over the many years of mobility numerous mitigations have been evolved to reduce underlying risks. Although mitigations are numerous they can be broadly grouped into three key areas that collectively work to reduce risks during travel:

• Vehicle safety

• Infrastructure safety

• Behavioural safety

Whilst accidents can only occur where all mitigations fail, this does not mean that this will always happen, rather that this is where the risk lies. However, each mitigation influences each other in a complex and changing picture of risk and therefore changes made may have unpredictable impacts and unwanted side effects.

For example, a project called the Munich taxi driver study looked at the behavioural impact of the introduction of ABS. Researchers studied collision rates and observed the driving behaviour of taxi drivers with and without ABS. They found there was no significant difference in their collision rates – in fact, the rate for drivers of ABS-equipped vehicles was slightly higher than the rate for those without ABS.

The study revealed that the drivers with ABS-equipped vehicles braked harder, cornered more sharply, left less space in front of them, and failed to maintain lane positioning and merge with other traffic in a safe manner. This was likely to be due to the drivers feeling safer and therefore taking more risks. Similar findings were reported by Sagberg et al (1997) taxis with ABS had significantly shorter headways than taxis without ABS. These kinds of studies show that human responses to technology aren’t always straightforward.

However, to take this further beyond this one study on ABS is, in general, a good thing, as although some advances can have potentially negative or negligible impacts others are very positive. For instance passive safety systems such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) offer positive improvements in incident reduction

(In the US, this gives a 39% decline in reported rear end collisions in vehicles fitted with this technology).

Impact of new technologies on mitigations

Vehicle safety

Vehicle risk mitigations relate to three key areas:

1) Ensuring a safe operational fleet

This includes mandated vehicle checks, such as the MOT in the UK, the vehicle recall process, type approval processes and NCAP crash safety rating.

Each of these play a crucial part in keeping risk to a minimum. However, with the ever changing world of technology, none can ever be fully effective.

Vehicle checks on more advanced cars need to become more complex and cannot be undertaken during a ‘quick check’.

A future approach therefore is to place increasing reliance upon direct digital feedback from within the vehicles. Future systems can expect to have active management of certain error codes to maintain safety.

A similar approach is being taken by OEM’s to reduce the costs of vehicle recall by shifting instead to OTA updates for the controlling software to mitigate non-mechanical faults.However, such updates still have little clear mandated process raising the potential of both wanted and unwanted risk changes to occur.

Type approval processes help to ensure that new vehicles meet evolving safety regulations ensuring safe engineering practice is followed to the letter of regulations. However, these processes are tested on complete systems in known testing, meaning OEM design ensures minimum requirements are met, and therefore testing may not cover wider test cases beyond those mandated.

ISO26262 provides a framework that advances this testing with a focus on new vehicle technologies. This approach however still uses scenario testing methodology. It would be unknown what happens with systems beyond those tests performed. This standard looks set to form a strong part of new automation testing but regulation is likely to add in predetermined test cases to ensure safer operation of new technologies.

NCAP crash safety testing for new vehicles provides a consumer with a visible safety rating for vehicles. Recently this approach has evolved into testing the first level 2 autonomous systems to provide feedback to purchasers on the safety of systems in these new vehicles. Currently this process has thus far however only tested 10 vehicles.

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Nonetheless, it is clear that NCAP aims to further extend testing into new technologies. As such they have a clear roadmap matching to monitor emerging risks and vital components of safer vehicles. These additional review aspects will, by 2020, encompass:

• Driver Monitoring

• Automatic Emergency Braking

• Automatic Emergency Steering

• Whiplash and rear end impact protection

• Rescue Extrication and Safety

And by 2022:

• Pedestrian and cyclist safety

• Child presence detection

Although this list is a positive step each will have a series of tests to examine performance and safety ratings. These tests will not be exhaustive or provide a complete analysis.

2) Regulatory controls and standards

Regulatory controls come in two parts; standards and guidance and regulatory additions. These aim to ensure safety by rules and official guidance to be followed. Over time standards and guidance may shift into direct regulation. Regulatory additions are currently under review globally with early adopters in Germany, UK and central European Union and state by state law in the US. For example, the European Commision has indicated clear changes to type approval which are currently under review.

This regulatory change is debating mandating the adoption of various features into the EU’s type approval process. These changes include:

• Automated emergency braking (cars)

• Alcohol interlock installation facilitation

• Drowsiness and attention detection

• Distraction recognition / prevention

• Event (accident) data recorder

• and a whole host of other new mandated issues

As well as these regulatory additions, the US has mandated rear facing camera technology in new vehicles from May 2018, Germany has mandated a third party black box in any vehicle beyond level 2 autonomous to monitor safety and establish fault and the UK has led the way with the most far reaching legal unpinning thus far, in the form of the electric and autonomous vehicles act and the ongoing law commision review.

These regulatory changes makes legal autonomous vehicle usage across all roads in the UK and establishes a role for insurers in determining driver vs. manufacturer liability. This, to be implemented correctly, requires further review (ongoing) looking at the data needed across parties to make a sustainable platform for the delivery of this.

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This approach is seen globally as a leading regulatory approach and has recently been tabled for consideration for addition into Canadian law, following the UK’s example.

Standards and guidance, although not law, can support safety via self enforcement – these include an OEM industry wide pledge encouraged by US safety regulators NHTSA that OEM’s should all adopt AEB (autonomous emergency braking) by 2022.

This addition will enforce forward facing (and in the US, rear facing also) sensors into all vehicles for operation. This is the first step in widespread deployment of automation safety features as all new vehicles having raw sensor technology by this date enabling an explosion of widespread new assistive technologies.

3) Vehicle Technology

Vehicle technologies are widespread and differentiated between makes and models of vehicles leading to a very complex picture of safety and assistive features. In many cases, systems may have a less known impact upon risk yet each mitigates in part some aspects that could be a risk factor.

For instance, lane keep assist technology supports keeping vehicles centrally in clearly marked lanes preventing lane run-off issues. This technology has the potential to offset lane run-off collisions by assisting the driver back into preferred lane positioning. This feature however may leave the driver reliant on cues from steering wheel nudges rather than paying proper attention to lane position. This technology is also dependent upon accurate lane markings and sensor technology to understand its position and as such may not work in all situations, therefore giving drivers a false sense of protection. The positives alone therefore, may not outweigh the negatives.

Technology around fully autonomous vehicles is progressing very quickly, and has the potential to remove the negative human reaction completely. However, to undertake such a huge change requires a lot of testing to understand how this technology would perform in the real world.

This importantly is not just for the risk in the autonomous vehicle but also those around them and how wider behaviour will alter. Specialist test centres, such as the US’s Mcity, or one of the four new autonomous test centres in the UK, have been set up specifically for this reason, to understand how such vehicles will operate in urban and suburban driving environments, but in reality, we still have some way to go before autonomous vehicles become the norm across all our roads.

Infrastructure safety

To add further complication, vehicle risks need to be assessed alongside how they operate in a changing environment.

Population growth and increased congestion is a problem in many cities, resulting in an increase in active travel and public transport infrastructure provision. In addition, changes in laws tackling emissions means this is taking a much stronger priority in road design and management.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is also facilitating the change from mobility to accessibility and from ownership to usership. MaaS uses a digital interface to source and manage the provision of transport services in order to meet the mobility requirements of customers.

The preference platform allows for mobility requirements and choices to be built into the booking or information system. MaaS takes into account real time traffic information to advise on the different options available and informs us about the duration of the journey, the cost,

its carbon footprint, etc. and users can pre-pay for the service as part of a monthly mobility subscription or just buy on demand routes – pay-as-you-go.

The move towards autonomous vehicles, create obvious opportunities for this market and already in the US, there are areas that have introduced driverless taxis as a pilot for increased learnings and assessment of how these cars will perform on public roads. For example, the Waymo project has an early rider program in Metro, Phoenix, where users can apply to test their self-driving cars and offer feedback and insight into the user experience. Encouragingly, the project has an enviable safety record, however, the complexities of the infrastructure and laws across different states, coupled with a lack of consistent intelligent road network, makes rolling out across much wider areas very difficult.

Inevitably therefore, we are likely to have a hybrid solution for some time yet, with a mix of driver and driverless vehicles on our roads. This in itself, also provides us with new challenges not experienced before. For instance, when driving amongst driverless cars, will drivers become more aggressive in their driving style as they know that these cars will automatically stop?

The short-term picture is forecast to include largely increased penetration of vehicles with assistive technologies that will alter risk. Also, in the short to medium term, the potential for more impactful autonomous functionalities can essentially facilitate the ‘driver’ to do something else other than focus on the driving task. However, with all current legislation, if something did happen, legally, the ‘driver’ still has to be in control and so again, we have the potential of technology distracting rather than assisting.

To help cope with this, in the UK a regulatory review is well underway debating the introduction of a ‘user-in-charge’ into driving law. This facilitates the ‘user-in-charge’ to drop attention from driving, leaving approved autonomous technologies fully in control of mobility.

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Behaviour safety

It’s clear that one of the biggest factors affecting risk is driver behaviour and how they react and interact with advancing new technologies.

Whilst the human driver is not advancing at all, we’re driving several times faster than evolution prepared us to go, and the driver information systems that have emerged to support the driver while driving, do not always result in the positive outcome that was intended.

Distraction is known to be one of the major reasons why drivers are involved in crashes.

A distraction has been defined as the diversion of attention from activities critical for safe driving toward a competing activity. Proportionally more than any other age group, teens involved in fatal crashes are reported to have been distracted at the time of the crash, with distractions as a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe crashes (NHTSA, 2016; Beanland, Fitzharris, Young, & Lenné, 2013).

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One of the major sources of distraction is the use of mobile phone technology whilst driving. With increasingly sophisticated mobile phones, the concern for road safety professionals is that drivers, especially young drivers are not just distracted by holding conversations whilst driving but also texting which is far more dangerous as the mind as well as the eyes are off the road. Talking on a mobile phone when driving can increase your risk of a crash four fold - texting whilst driving can increase your crash risk by up to 23 times.

As our dependence on smartphones continues to increase in everyday life, this also impacts on our driving.

The impact of the change in how we use mobile phone technology in the vehicle has been shown in a recent study (Carney et al, 2018). The study examined 2,229 naturalistic driving videos involving drivers aged between 16 and 19 yrs. There was a significant increase in the proportion of rear-end crashes with drivers operating/looking at a mobile phone over the years. The videos also revealed that for mobile phone related crashes, a significant shift has occurred, from talking/listening to operating/looking (annual 4.22 % change). The evolution of mobile phones to smartphones means that drivers have now moved from talking into texting and engagement in social media whilst driving. The human driver has therefore also evolved alongside the technology, but not in a desirable direction.

By the year 2040 (or perhaps long before) we will be in a new era of mass ‘connected vehicles’ with autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles communicating with road users, the road infrastructure and other vehicles. The continually evolving driving environment is expected to have a commensurate human response but little is known about whether this will have a positive or negative impact on road safety.

Road safety professionals are concerned that this hybrid traffic environment may lead to an increase in road traffic casualties in the short to medium term. That’s because the human driver is not evolving appropriate risk reducing behaviour alongside the new technology. Whilst vehicle safety standards are protecting us in the event of a crash, it cannot yet make beyond human decisions that will avoid a crash happening in the first place. There is evidence that collectively road users are adapting to some in-vehicle technology in a negative direction making less safe decisions.

Future vehicles and infrastructure are still a long way from protecting us from ourselves. Autonomous technology is already here and can be expected to be increasingly featured in new vehicles - yet drivers have little, if any, understanding of how in vehicle technology and automation impacts levels of risk. Telematic data fortunately allows for a longitudinal analyses of the effects of in-vehicle technology in a naturalistic setting.

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Research should now focus on being able to understand and anticipate human responses to new technology predicting when they might occur and under what conditions. There are particular concerns around young drivers who are more prone to distraction and whilst fully autonomous vehicles target removing human error by taking the human out of the loop, it is clear we will be driving alongside a mixture of manual, semiautonomous and highly autonomous vehicles for some time yet.

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