Press Notice
Wednesday 14th July 1999


Executive Summary
Full report (.pdf format)

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) have the potential to save thousands of lives on European roads. They can however, if poorly designed, create hazards for the car driver and other road users. An effective EU strategy for ITS and road safety is needed, assisted by a special Task Force to ensure safe and seamless operation across borders. These are the main conclusions of a new report issued by the European Transport Safety Council in Brussels today prepared by experts from across the European Union.

The report "Intelligent Transport Systems and Road Safety" provides evidence that many systems are available now to be deployed to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roads. Others are not yet ready to be introduced, but hold huge promise for the future. There are dangers too from the unregulated introduction of new systems into the vehicle. The greatest potential threat is from drivers carrying out activities not related to driving, with the so-called "Office on Wheels" giving drivers access though an in-car PC to the internet and to e-mail.

"There is a real risk of drivers becoming so involved in their e-mail or whatever that they forget about driving," says Jeanne Breen, ETSC's Executive Director. "In-vehicle systems such as this need to be made impossible to use while the vehicle is in motion. Safety concerns about the use of telephones while driving also continue. One research study has concluded that the risk of having a crash may be as much as 4 times greater while using a mobile hand-held phone. Only hands-free telephones should be permitted for use while driving and other type of telephone should be carefully designed to reduce driver distraction."

"There is a strong message to the EU here," said Mark Watts MEP (PSE, UK), Co-Chairman of ETSC's Main Council. "Even for in-vehicle systems which are related to driving, there is a risk that, through poor displays, illegible messages, too much text, ill-thought-out menus - in-vehicle systems can cause hazards by distracting or overloading the driver. Until now the EU has generally allowed system manufacturers to make most of the running. The EU needs to take far greater responsibility for promoting safe performance. The Commission should take steps now to ensure compliance with its own guidelines so that safety is not degraded by poor design and manufacturers comply with best practice, particularly for in-vehicle information systems It should also carry out the safety research which has been so limited to date, to establish a more effective testing regime."

ETSC Co-Chairman Dr Dieter Koch MEP (EPP,D) said: "In-vehicle and roadside technologies are not just a futuristic pipe dream, several systems are ready for immediate deployment. They include automatic enforcement systems (such as speed cameras and red-light cameras), and motorway control systems using variable message signs to provide information and advice to the driver Given the high potential for savings, the EU should be much more active in promoting ITS with proven safety benefit. The Trans European Road Network (TERN) is the ideal place to do this".

Other systems are identified which require further development but which have even greater safety potential. They include electronic driving licences, which could help to prevent illegal driving, seat belt warning devices and intelligent speed adaptation (ISA), which would prevent vehicles from being driven above the legal speed limit. In its voluntary form, this could reduce injury crashes overall by around 10 per cent. Required universally across the EU, it could reduce such crashes by at least one-third.

Dr Oliver Carsten, a member of the Working Party which produced the report says: "Intelligent Speed Adaptation has greater potential than virtually any other safety system. It will prevent crashes from taking place and reduce their severity when they do occur." Other systems whose urgent development is recommended include seatbelt warning devices and interlocks which could dramatically improve seatbelt wearing rates and save at least 5000 lives a year.

For further information contact:
ETSC Brussels office: + 32 (0)2 230 4106