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TÜV SÜD: Automated driving also needs accident research

Autonomous driving headed the agenda at the international conference organized by TÜV SÜD and Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt (THI), reflecting the intensive efforts currently poured into this field by vehicle-safety experts. As the safety professionals attending this conference emphasised, advancement of both active and passive safety is paramount.

“If we want automated driving to meet with wide acceptance and realise its safety benefits, we need to prepare consumers gradually for this innovative technology”, said Udo Steininger, TÜV SÜD. The physicist also advocated intensive virtual testing of the systems before launching them on the market, saying at the conference, “We also need to demonstrate to the government and the public that the expected increase in safety will actually be realised”. Organised by TÜV SÜD Academy, this year's took place at THI – a first in its 14-year career. For two days, 160 experts from the automotive industry, the world of research, insurance companies and official authorities discussed possible avenues of improving road safety.

Some of the speakers expressed their regrets over the stagnation in road-accident and road-death figures in Europe. One of them was Prof. Dr. Lothar Wech from THI, who nevertheless also underlined previous achievements based on technological progress. He was convinced that without assisted and automated driving there could be no further improvement in road safety. “However, we need more than technological innovations on board vehicles; we also need to integrate people and infrastructure”, pointed out the conference chairman. In view of the relatively high accident figures, special attention needs to be paid to unprotected road users. Demographic change must play a role in all further measures to improve vehicle safety.

Other presentations also addressed the special challenges involved in an ageing population. One in three road casualties is older than 65, although the age group accounts for only ten per cent of road users. Particularly alarming is the percentage of over-75s among pedelec users who die in road accidents, which added up to 69 percent in 2017. According to the experts attending the conference, driver assistance and restraint systems which are especially tailored to older people may prove helpful in countering the hazard potential.

Overall, the experts believe that many other technological improvements are still possible beyond automated driving. One of the participants, for example, presented a system that reliably recognises when an accident is unavoidable and responds by ensuring early activation of seat-belt tensioners and airbags. And the increasingly severe consequences of road accidents involving trucks can be countered by automated emergency braking systems and lane keeping and intersection assistants, as well as optimised rear-underrun protection devices (RUPD). Several speakers at the conference were in favour of removing the drivers’ option to deactivate the automatic emergency braking systems.

Overall, the automotive experts still see exciting opportunities in technological progress. The participants agreed that in 20 years conferences, such as, and road accidents will still exist, and described the adoption of an integrated approach as helpful. Prof. Dr. Klaus Langwieder, like Prof. Dr. Lothar Wech a long-standing expert in accident research, spoke out in favour of reexamining the traditional separation between active and passive safety, and proposed the new concept of "integral safety".

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