Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Intelligent Speed Assistance Systems – a global case for change

Car with heads-up-display

The European Commission is assessing whether to make Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems a mandatory feature for almost all vehicle types. Cheap and simple to fit, ISA systems can improve adherence to speed limits, reducing fatal crashes by up to 30%. Across Europe, this could save at least 2,000 lives every year. If the European Commission decides to adopt ISA systems, it will mark the culmination of years of research, from the mid-1990s onwards, by the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS).

European roads are some of the safest in the world, but still 25,670 people died on roads in Europe in automotive accidents in 2016, with five times as many injured or seriously hurt. The EU has adopted a strategic objective to halve road deaths by 2026 and, in order to achieve this aim, the European Commission is focusing its attention on technologies that can help to reduce the number of crashes caused by human error and to reduce the harm caused by crashes when they do occur. 


The EU wants to halve road deaths by 2026. The focus is on technologies that can reduce the number of crashes and harmful injuries.


The Commission is currently reviewing the General Safety Regulations (GSR) and Pedestrian Safety Regulations (PSR) that aim to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. As part of this, it has been assessing the efficacy of 19 safety technologies, including ISA.1 Research by ITS has been cited frequently, making a strong case for mandatory adoption of ISA across the continent.


ISA is one of the 19 safety technologies under evaluation by the European Commission.


The adoption of ISA in Europe took a significant step closer this year, when the Saving Lives: Boosting Car Safety in the EU report from the European Commission to the European Parliament and Council concluded that safety measures, including ISA had the “potential to provide incremental but significant improvements to address a range of vehicle safety related issues.” 2 The Commission will consider which safety measures may be included in proposed legislation, after an impact assessment is conducted, potentially paving the way for new regulations in the near future.3 

The adoption of ISA in Europe took a significant step closer this year, when the Saving Lives: Boosting Car Safety in the EU report from the European Commission to the European Parliament and Council concluded that safety measures, including ISA had the potential to provide incremental but significant improvements to address a range of vehicle safety related issues.” 2 The Commission will consider which safety measures may be included in proposed legislation, after an impact assessment is conducted, potentially paving the way for new regulations in the near future.3

The potential for mandatory adoption of ISA technologies is the culmination of years of work. Since 1995, Oliver Carsten, Professor of Transport Safety, and colleagues at ITS have established the life-saving potential of ISA systems. ISA systems help drivers to monitor and manage their speeds, providing feedback and alerts. Some forms of ISA can even restrict vehicle speeds automatically.


Statistics clearly indicate that ISA is effective.


Research conducted in the Netherlands has found that mandatory introduction of ISA systems in cars can help to achieve a 90% compliance rate with speed limits; such compliance would result in 25% fewer road deaths across Europe by 2050.4 On paper, the statistics should be enough to establish ISA as a technology worth adopting, but the political agreement for the introduction of such a system has been slow to match the evidence highlighted by research.

A Case for Change

ISA systems work by determining the location of the vehicle through global positioning systems (GPS), cross-referencing the information with a digital road maps and available visual cues (like road signs) to provide speed limit information for each road. This information is processed on board the vehicle, and used to provide information to the driver who can take appropriate action. In the supportive version, the system can automatically limit the vehicle’s maximum speed, while still allowing the driver to override when desired.


The cost is approximately €20 per vehicle.


ISA technology may sound complex – and costly – to fit, but it is actually relatively simple. Using the existing cameras, GPS systems and processing power most modern vehicles possess, Carsten suggests that the adaptations necessary for ISA could be achieved for around €20 per vehicle, far cheaper than the estimate of several hundred pounds made 12 years ago.5

Since there are few technological problems with introducing ISA systems, the primary challenge is to secure public and political acceptance. The lesson from real-world driving with ISA systems is that drivers appreciate the support. With ISA, the vehicle plays an active part in hazard perception, taking on some of the work – and responsibility – from the driver. 


The primary challenge is to secure public and political acceptance.


Understanding and testing this relationship is central to Oliver Carsten’s work. “We’re primarily interested in the focus of how humans interact with technologies,” Professor Carsten explains. “Our work involves looking at the relationship between humans and machines, and how ISA systems can be implemented to improve safety.”

In an influential paper, Carsten and colleagues Frank Lai and Fergus Tate calculated that an ‘authority driven’ adoption of ISA systems (mandatory adoption) in the UK was predicted to prevent 30% of fatal accidents, and 25% of serious accidents.6 If adoption was ‘market driven’ (chosen by consumers rather than mandatory) it is still the case that 13% of fatal crashes and 8% of serious crashes would be prevented. Even at the most conservative levels, over 2,000 lives could be saved across Europe every year.


The benefits: around 30% reduction in fatal accidents and 25% fewer serious crashes.


The Research Story

The work into ISA at ITS began in 1995, with an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant to investigate the impact of ISA on driver behaviour, focusing on driver attitudes to speed and speed compliance behaviour in urban environments.7 Using ITS’s driving simulator, researchers found that ISA led to a reduction in maximum speeds, particularly in low-lit areas and at speed limit transition points.

Since this initial project, ITS has collaborated with regulators and bodies to help develop the case for ISA, with its work gaining international significance. Between 1997 and 2000, ITS worked with the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) to explore the behaviour of users in cars fitted with ISA in real-world operation. The government-funded External Vehicle Speed Control research tested ISA protocols, and the impacts of ISA on behaviour, traffic patterns and accident risk – the most comprehensive study to date anywhere in the world.


Over 2,000 lives could be saved across Europe every year.


The influential work also established a baseline figure for adoption, calculating that the effects of ISA would be cumulative if fitted on more than 60% of vehicles. Supporting this was a cost/benefit analysis of ISA, and its potential not only to save lives, but to save money too. Each fatal road accident costs the UK taxpayer over £1.6m; any reduction in crashes could save significant sums.5

In 2003, ITS continued its work for the Department for Transport (DfT) with the ISA-UK project. Drivers logged over 400,000 miles of driving on public roads as part of a field operational test to understand and measure the impact of ISA on driver behaviour. The results suggested strongly that ISA was effective, with a 27% reduction in motorway speeding, and a 10% reduction in urban speeding among ‘speed intenders’ (those who want to speed).8 The results indicated that supportive forms of ISA could reduce the number of fatal crashes by up to 30%.


ISA could reduce motorway speeding by 27%, and urban speeding among ‘speed intenders’ by 10%. 


As well as helping to save lives, Carsten and colleagues calculated the introduction of ISA on a mandatory basis would have a significant net economic benefit to the UK economy of £16–£28m. Based on 2006 figures, it is likely that the savings from ISA today could be even greater.


The financial benefit to the UK economy: £16–£28m.


The work with DfT has directly helped to shape the policy debate in the UK on ISA, with ITS’s analysis of ISA technology illustrating its cost-effectiveness over the 60-year period demanded by DfT for appraisal guidance. The research has made the case for mandatory adoption of ISA in the strongest terms.

Additionally, Professor Carsten believes that the focus of ITS on developing peer-reviewed research has helped the Institute elevate itself among its peers, and contributed to its influence. “Our wide ranging, multi-disciplinary approach to research and our focus on generating peer-reviewed articles has brought international attention and focus,” Professor Carsten says.

Political Influence

As ISA technology becomes cheaper and easier to implement, the cumulative impact of research into ISA is finally making its mark on policy debate; it has directly affected the current European safety assessment. Influenced by ITS research, in 2013, the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) began awarding extra points to new vehicles that were fitted with ISA technology.


Euro NCAP now gives extra points to new vehicles fitted with ISA.


Alongside seatbelt reminders and electronic stability control in the ‘Safety Assist’ procedures, ISA is one of three injury crash prevention technologies adopted by NCAP. Cars with intervening ISA (where the car takes action to limit speed) are scored more highly than those with advisory systems. This shift by NCAP has seen automobile manufacturers rapidly adopting the current safety features available for new models, bringing greater benefits to the public. As of 2013, almost 70% of all new cars being tested by Euro NCAP were fitted with speed assist systems, double the number in 2012.9


From 2013, almost 70% of all new cars tested by Euro NCAP are fitted with ISA –double the number in 2012.


The impact of ITS research has seen Professor Carsten establish himself as a respected authority on road safety, reflected in his appointment as the Chair of the Road User Behaviour Working Party of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, and his work as an expert advisor to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) where his advice and insights are used to help shape policy and regulatory debates. 

“The story of ISA and the influence of Euro NCAP is that people – including politicians – are willing to listen to scientific advisors, Professor Carsten says, discussing how politicians and advisory groups value the independence of ITS. “We come from an independent, rather than entrenched position.” The discussion with policy-makers has benefited from the advocacy of the European Transport Safety Council, an influential NGO. “ETSC has played an important role as a go-between with decision-makers” says Professor Carsten.

Research is having an ongoing impact on a global level, not only in Europe. In a recent report by Global NCAP, ISA systems were considered the lowest-cost of the ‘Safety Assist’ technologies that are currently assessed by the Euro NCAP. 10

This reinforces work by ITS cited in the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development’s (OECD’s) 2008 report Towards Zero on road safety strategy, which makes the case for the mandatory introduction of ISA systems.11

Safety is the over-riding benefit of ISA systems, but research has demonstrated that such systems can have a beneficial impact on the environment too. The UK Sustainable Development Commission has argued that ISA systems could make a positive impact on carbon reduction. Their position is based on research by ITS which indicates that ISA systems would reduce carbon emissions by up to 5.8% on 70mph roads.12


ISA systems could reduce carbon emissions by up to 5.8% on 70mph roads. 


Driverless Future

Tesla’s Elon Musk may claim that his automated driving systems are twice as safe as a human, but the recent fatal crash involving a distracted driver failing to respond to the warnings of the car highlights the importance of the interface between human and machine.

The inexorable progress toward driverless cars has seen ISA research take on a new significance. It is generally accepted that vehicles operating under automated control have to comply with all regulations, including speed limits. “We’re only beginning to scrape the surface of automated vehicle design,” claims Professor Carsten. We now need to move on to recognition of dynamic speed limits, which are being increasingly introduced for road management,” he adds.

The transitions between human and vehicle pose significant research questions, which Professor Carsten and the wider team are answering with new research. “We need to understand the complex handover between the human and the vehicle.”

Recent work by Carsten and colleagues has explored driver expectations of the reaction of the vehicle. ISA systems can be mandatory or optional, intervening or passive. The research calls for a greater focus on the warning signs given to drivers.13 Relieved of the task of driving, humans can quickly become bored in automated vehicles, a situation that poses significant risks.14 In a recent paper, Carsten and colleagues used a diving simulator study to assess drivers’ gaze fixations in automated vehicles (SAE Level 2) when approaching critical and non-critical events.15


The story of ISA and the influence of Euro NCAP is that people – including politicians – are willing to listen to scientific advisors.


Funded by the European Commission’s (EC) AdaptIVe project, the research concludes that Automated driving systems should be able to direct drivers’ attention to hazards no less than 6 seconds in advance of an adverse outcome.”

The work by Carsten and ITS has much wider ramifications. Determining the complex relationship between human and machine is necessary to help establish the legal and moral framework for the adoption of increasingly automated technologies within our cars and on our roads.

Influencing change


Around 90% of those purchasing a new car choose to have their car fitted with ISA.


“Our attitudes to speed have changed,” Professor Carsten believes, adding that: “people genuinely want to comply with the speed limit.” It’s a belief he claims is reinforced by the fact that, when they are available, around 90% of those purchasing a new car will choose to have their car fitted with ISA.

The work of ITS has helped to establish the rational, technical and moral case for change. Professor Carsten supports the EU proposals, but cautions they may not go far enough. “They should go for a system that will intervene in vehicle control and default to being on.” He also believes the resolution should be binding, ensuring that every new car includes this technology.

It is undoubtedly the case that the theoretical and practical work of Carsten and his colleagues at ITS is having a cumulative impact on the adoption of ISA technologies across the world. Their work has been “heavily cited,” according to Professor Carsten. “Five years ago, I would have said no one is listening to our research, now we’re at the point where there is a growing international audience for our work.”

As a consequence, ISA is now one of the leading technologies in the EU’s campaign to reduce road fatalities.

 

References

1 European Commission (2015) Benefit and feasibility of a range of new technologies and unregulated measures in the field of vehicle occupant safety and protection of vulnerable road users.

2 European Commission (2016) Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council – Saving Lives: Boosting Car Safety in the EU.

3 European Commission (2016) Saving Lives with Safer Cars.

4 European Road Safety Observatory (2016) Vehicle Safety 2016.

5 Carsten, O. & Tate, F. (2005) Intelligent speed adaptation: accident savings and cost–benefit analysis. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 37(3): 407-416. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2004.02.007

6 Lai, F., Carsten, O. & Tate, F. (2012) How much benefit does Intelligent Speed Adaption deliver: An analysis of its potential contribution to safety and environment. Accident Analysis and Prevention 48  63–72. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.04.011

7 Comte, S.L. (2000) New systems: new behaviour? Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 3(2): 95-111. doi: 10.1016/S1369-8478(00)00019-X

8 Carsten, O., Fowkes, M., Lai, F., Chorlton, K., Jamson, S., Tate, F. & Simpkin, B. (2008) Final Report of the Intelligent Speed Adaptation Project.

9 Euro NCAP (2014).

10 Global NCAP (2017) Report of the seminar on advanced speed assistance systems.

11 OECD (2008) Towards Zero: Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach.

12 Lai, F., Carsten, O. & Tate, F. (2012) How much benefit does Intelligent Speed Adaption deliver: An analysis of its potential contribution to safety and environment. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 48 (2012) 63–72, para 4.3. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.04.011

13 Merat, N., Jamson, A., Lai, F., Daly, M. & Carsten O. (2014) Transition to manual: Driver behaviour when resuming control from a highly automated vehicle. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 27 (Part B): 274-282. doi: 10.1016/j.trf.2014.09.005

14 Merat N., Jamson A., Lai F. & Carsten O. (2012) Highly automated driving, secondary task performance, and driver state. Human Factors, 54: 762-771. doi: 10.1177/0018720812442087

15 Louw T., Markkula G., Boer E., Madigan R., Carsten O. & Merat N. (2017) Coming back into the loop: Drivers’ perceptual-motor performance in critical events after automated driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 108:9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2017.08.011