27th March 2019

The mandating of more in-car safety tech is good news – but will it really help make our roads accident-free any time soon?

Andrew Brown-Allan, Managing Director of Trak Labs

The EU Commission’s call for the mandating of more in-car safety technology is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Improving road safety has always been at the core of Trak Global Group’s ethos, and we see any opportunity for reduced road collisions and increased vehicle connectivity as a really positive step. But will the impact really be as straightforward as the new proposal suggests? And how long until the benefits trickle down to some of the riskiest drivers on our roads?

The opportunity for road risk to be better managed as cars become more connected is something that is key to TGG’s business. We have spent nearly a decade using telematics data to proactively manage driver risk and mitigate collisions. We already work with motor manufacturers and regulators in the UK, Europe and the US to understand and harness the benefits of connected car technologies in order to shape a safer future for mobility.

The EU’s timeline is ambitious. Making eCall mandatory was first proposed in 2012, but it only became mandatory in April 2018 – the delays largely being due to pressure from car manufacturers. There is evidence to suggest that history might repeat here, as the newly released report estimates the anticipated total impact (one-off and ongoing production costs) for car manufacturers will amount to EUR 57.4 billion at present value cost, while at the same time not anticipating a retail price increase on new vehicles. This is likely to attract economic tension and therefore significant attention (and lobbying) from vehicle manufacturers.

It is regrettable that the introduction of these new technologies is unlikely to impact the most vulnerable road users in the medium-term. As a business that provides the technology platform for around a third of the UK’s ‘black box’ insurance market, we note that the average age of a novice driver’s vehicle in the UK is around 8 years; with this in mind, it will be many years, possibly the 2030s, before the least experienced and most at-risk drivers benefit from these collision avoidance technologies as they cascade through the used car market. For example, it took nearly 25 years for ABS to filter down from high-end vehicles to become a standard feature (2004).

Regulators need to consider other ways to leverage technology to make motoring both safer and more affordable for the next generation of motorists; for example, we have spent six years lobbying for concessions to IPT for any young driver with telematics-enabled insurance in their first year, because there is hard evidence that telematics reduces both collision frequency and severity for this group of road users.

TGG already uses connected car data to analyse driver risk, and we are starting to explore how data from advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) might correlate with a driver’s risk profile and inform the algorithms that underpin many of our solutions.

For example, is frequent activation of systems such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane keep assist an indication of driver distraction and perhaps an over-reliance on semi-autonomous systems’ limited capabilities? Similarly, being able to read the frequency with which a driver overrides the vehicle’s proposed automatic speed limiter (which will be a ubiquitous feature) is also likely to offer a reliable proxy for the driver’s risk exposure.

So long as in-car safety tech is not fully reliable, intelligent speed assistance systems work to a legal speed limit rather than a safe speed, tech costs remain high and driver intervention is still required to drive a car, we anticipate optimised safety will very much arise from a blend of automation and good driving behaviour.

So whilst we welcome the EU Commission’s initiative, we’re not getting too excited all too soon. There’s a lot of work to do before our roads are safe for everyone. And we won’t stop until we get there.