More than a million people die each year as a result of road traffic accidents around the world. A recent report also highlighted that accidents can significantly impact economic growth in low to middle income countries.
Due to a lack of reliable data however, the true impact of safety trends worldwide may be far greater.
How can we counteract this, using data?
Improving the monitoring of road safety, by increasing the collection of and access to relevant statistics, is on the WHO list of interventions to improve road safety, as is designing better infrastructure and implementation of road and vehicle safety standards.
Project EVA (Equal Vehicles for All): Better crash test dummies = lower road fatalities
For example, women wearing seat belts are more likely to be injured in a road accidents than men. The reason? Crash test dummies are designed for the average male body, so the data used to make decisions about vehicle safety improvements is inherently biased.
Through Project EVA (Equal Vehicles for All), Volvo has been leading the way in adopting female crash test dummies and is sharing data with other manufacturers to help address biases in existing underlying data and share insights from data on historical accidents.
Other road safety features based on data
Volvo, like other manufacturers, is starting to add driver-safety features to its vehicles to make them more aware of other traffic, current driving conditions and the local environment. These features can help increase safety of the driver, passengers and other road users.
‘Lane departure warnings’ can alert a driver if they are driving out of lane by using a combination of cameras and location (GPS) data.
The new context of data abundance: sharing helps everyone
Individual companies are amassing large training datasets to help improve their own algorithms and there's a rush to create high-definition maps of cities and roads to help support autonomous vehicles.
But what if that data was shared more widely, so that both the public and regulators can be sure that every autonomous vehicle has been trained and tested using the best available data?
Maximising value by data sharing
Achieving this will require organisations to share data rather than seeing it as a proprietary asset.
Projects like Berkeley Deep Drive are a step in the right direction, but there's still more to be done.
The large volumes of geospatial data collected by ride-sharing businesses like Uber can be used to fix maps and improve the public record. But this needs to be published under open licenses to help maximise its value.
Improving the accuracy of location data for example, can increase safety and navigation for all road users, regardless of their mode of transport.
Digital twins with real-time data
Roads, buildings, bridges and other features of the built environment are increasingly being fitted with sensors that can be used to provide real time insight into how that infrastructure is performing. The data from these sensors can then be used to create models of how our physical infrastructure is being used.
These “digital twins” can help to manage traffic flow to avoid or react to accidents as they occur, or help to plan maintenance schedules that respond to demands on the infrastructure.
Using data for the public good is a key part of the UK’s infrastructure strategy. The same should be true worldwide.
Safety plateau-ing: More creativity and deeper insights needed for further improvements
Historical figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that while safety in the workplace has increased in the UK, the trend has plateaued in recent years.
To achieve further gains, and to develop insights that can be applied worldwide where the situation is mixed, we need to look at more innovative ways to increase safety.
This can mean mining existing accidents report and collecting more data on “near misses” to derive further insights, much as Volvo is attempting to do with its 40 years of accident data.
Better access to data increases safety
In all of the above examples, increasing access to data, while protecting privacy and commercial confidentiality, is essential to delivering a safer environment for us all.
It's time for all types of organisations to invest further in ensuring that we are maximising the value of data available to use, and creating an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.
Over the coming months we will be developing a manifesto and publishing recommendations that will help to set a direction for this movement.