Perfecting Traffic Safety with Connected Vehicles

Perfecting Traffic Safety with Connected Vehicles

The three elements of the traffic safety equation have been the driver, the vehicle, and the roadway. Auto makers have been working to make vehicles safer since the 1970’s. Their effort made vehicles more crash-worthy. One of the early videos promoting safety belt usage noted that if you buckled up, there was “room to live” inside the car because the occupant area was protected. The latest enhancements provide back-up cameras, blind spot warnings, and radar detection of conflicting vehicles. The roadway has also been made safer by highway designs by providing an area adjacent to the roadway clear of fixed objects. Roadside poles have a break away base so that collision with a pole is unlikely to be fatal. Guardrails and ends of guardrails have been made safer by highway designers. However, the driver is beyond our capability for design improvements.

With the advent of autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles we wonder if vehicles without drivers make highway safety perfection possible. Can highways now be designed without considerations for driver’s eye height, intersection sight distance, and stopping sight distance? Are driver perception and reaction times no longer relevant? Can we design without consideration of human factors? Probably not.

Although cars are getting smarter and more connected, there will be a large proportion of the vehicle fleet that is not autonomous and not connected. The unconnected and the connected vehicles are likely to be sharing the same roadway. Although the vehicles will be safer with more and more features to assist in the driving task, roadway design will continue to require attention to the human factors of the drivers who have minimal driver assists. As long as we have drivers, pedestrians, and bicycles in the mix of travelers on our roadways, our roadway designs will need to accommodate all of the human users, connected or not.

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