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Is ‘Vision Zero’ viable?  

Chris Mason explores whether many industry safety goals are realistic or effective, and the difficulty of global standards and regulation

Automotive World Magazine – September 2022

Over the last decade, the automotive industry has transitioned from hardware- to software-driven safety in the pursuit of ‘Vision Zero’: a widely recognised ambition aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all.

First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, the Vision Zero concept has proved successful in Europe and is gaining momentum across America. The introduction of hardware such as anti-lock brakes and crumple zones have been a driving force in enhancing road safety, but intelligent safety systems such as autonomous software and automatic emergency braking technology are taking the industry to new heights in terms of passenger, driver and pedestrian protection.

Danilo Teobaldi, Vice President of vehicle engineering at Nio, believes that the development of automated systems within the vehicle are a driving force on the path to Vision Zero. “The continuing evolution of autonomous technology aims to deliver even greater safety benefits than earlier technologies. Autonomous driving software has the benefits of reducing crashes, preventing injuries and saving lives. By reducing, and finally removing human errors, these technologies will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.”

However, the idea of preventing all accidents is a major challenge and, according to industry experts, is not entirely possible. Although Vision Zero is an end goal, it remains a concept and, as its name suggests, should operate as a vision and not an absolute certainty. In many respects, the journey itself is as important as the destination.

We must set the bar high to mobilise the necessary energy towards improving safety, but the ‘zero’ is—and will remain—a vision

Dominik Schuster, Vice President of safety at BMW and part of the FISTIA intelligence safety working group, believes that there are many challenges on the road to Vision Zero. “In general, the measures which are currently discussed in the safety community bear the possibility to further reduce fatalities. However, on the road to Vision Zero, we must address the consequences and implications associated with it. Are zero traffic fatalities really achievable? What restrictions will society accept if zero fatalities are to become a reality? What methods are suitable for the implementation of new safety measures in the direction of Vision Zero? And what actions should be tackled next on our path to Vision Zero? These are the questions that the safety community and society as a whole must find an answer to.”

Engineering collaboration

Over the next decade, intelligent safety solutions—which will feature prominently in the rollout of self-driving vehicles—will significantly reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities. The primary goal is to make these systems as safe as possible and understand the long and complex journey that will be driven by OEMs, suppliers, governing bodies and, most importantly, the evolving engineering community. To reduce crashes as much as possible, the industry must collectively research and develop the most efficient and effective measures and technologies to ensure optimum safety for businesses and their customers, which can only be achieved with patience, collaboration and scrutiny.

Vision Zero aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries

Klaus Kompass, professor of vehicle safety and driver assistance at the Technical University of Berlin, and European executive board member for FISITA, says that although the Vision Zero approach is one which is widely accepted and adopted, it is often misunderstood: “We must set the bar high to mobilise the necessary energy towards improving safety, but the ‘zero’ is—and will remain—a vision.” Another issue lies in the fact that the Vision Zero approach implies that each and every chance to improve safety must be captured, which is currently impossible. “The available resources are limited and restricted, including vehicle weight, packaging, space, cost of ownership, development time, engineering capacity and consumer acceptance,” he adds. “We as an industry have to carefully identify and select the most efficient and effective measures, and leave the less effective ones behind.”

Standardising road safety

Intelligent safety is a holistic approach to overall road safety, encompassing measures taken by all stakeholders involved, including vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, mobility service operators and town planners. Yet, around the world, there are still breakdowns in understanding and acceptance, which impacts the effectiveness of the software. For self-driving vehicles to drive the industry towards Vision Zero, it is essential that a standard is established by transport authorities and governments.

However, for many, it is impossible to create such a global standard for autonomous vehicles. Despite this, Schuster remains confident that it is possible to establish processes on an industry-wide level that will significantly improve the rollout of intelligent safety systems and technologies: “While the standardisation of safety vehicle architecture from all OEMs seems unreasonable, standards that specify the underlying processes, such as the tools used, quality measures, safety of intended functionality analysis and positive risk balance, will accelerate the adoption of intelligent safety systems and increase public trust in them.”

Although Vision Zero is an end goal, it remains a concept and, as its name suggests, should operate as a vision and not an absolute certainty

Teobaldi says that over the last five years there have been many successful examples of OEMs developing innovation on their own and collaborating with technology providers. He believes that autonomous functions will be present on all vehicles in the future, which will help propel new levels of safety: “Autonomous driving functions will soon become standard across the global car market, especially in the segment where Nio competes. The competition—and therefore success—‚will not be based on whether an OEM has self-driving functions or doesn’t have self-driving functions. Instead, it will be based on the smooth execution and the quality of the experience when the driver hands over the controls to the machine.”

The evolution of safety systems will always be guided by legal requirements, in addition to the outcome of consumer testing. To predict the next evolutionary steps of these safety systems and technologies, the industry needs to support an exchange between all stakeholders regarding the requirements to ensure it can get as close to Vision Zero as possible. Only then, can society truly begin a conversation about achieving that 0% target.

About the author: Chris Mason is Chief Executive of FISITA

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