Improving safety and mobility of vulnerable road users through intelligent transport systems

Despite substantial progress in improving road safety over the last decade, vulnerable road users (VRUs) have not profited as much as vehicle occupants from these developments. One of the potential measures to improve traffic safety is through the use of intelligent transport systems (ITS), by making vehicles or infrastructures more intelligent. A recent article collection in European Transport Research Review investigate ways in which ITS can contribute to the safety, mobility and comfort of VRUs.

During the past decade substantial progress has been made in improving road safety, but this development has not reached vulnerable road users (VRUs) as much as vehicle occupants. Between 2006 and 2015 the total number of road fatalities has been reduced by 40%, with a lower reduction for VRUs. With a stagnating decrease of fatalities in the past years, the European Commission has issued a Strategic Action Plan on Road Safety.

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) have made vehicles safer through various passive and active systems

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) have made vehicles safer through various passive and active systems. But lately the main focus has been on vehicles, and much less on VRUs. The VRUITS project, which was co-funded by the European Commission in the 7th Framework Programme, studied how ITS can improve the safety and mobility of VRUs.

ITS adds intelligence to either the vehicle, the infrastructure or the VRU. Vehicle ITS systems, which were shown to have a high safety potential, include autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems with pedestrian (and cyclist) detection and blind spot detection systems. Infrastructures can be made more intelligent through sensors near traffic lights, which for example allow providing safe crossing to elderly pedestrians and persons with special needs, and providing green waves for cyclists.

Collection highlights

Through V2X technology, vehicles can be made more aware of VRUs. By providing VRUs with communication devices and sensors, VRUs could transmit status data, and other road users could be warned when their trajectories are conflicting. However, the technical requirements for these devices (such as power consumption, sensor accuracy and calculation capabilities) are challenging, as well as related privacy and data security issues. Awareness-related V2X applications, which provide warnings of VRUs near dangerous locations, are relatively close to the market.

The impact of ITS systems is not only affected by its intended direct effect (e.g. for blind spot detection system the reduction of accidents through improved detection and warning of the drivers), but also by indirect and long-term duration effects, such as potential over-reliance on the system, or non-use due to annoyance of too many critical warnings.

In order to quantify the impact on safety and mobility of ITS systems, a methodology has been developed taking on the different ways in which the ITS may affect on the behavior of road users, including indirect and long-term effects was developed. A similar methodology was developed for comfort and mobility assessment of ITS for VRUs.

Silla et al. apply the safety assessment methodology to ITS systems for powered two-wheelers (PTWs). In particular, V2X systems for PTWs show positive impact on rider safety.

Using the results of the different analyses for selected ITS systems, recommendations for actions at the EU level regarding ITS for VRUs were made. The method for assessing the recommendations for actions at the EU level starts by identifying barriers and recommendations to reduce said barriers, which include technical issues, such as detection performance and accuracy, and business models.

Cooperation between a wide range of stakeholders is critical for implementing the recommendations.

Through a multi-criteria analysis, recommendations were ranked. These cover a wide range of potential measures, including research activities to technical aspects, field tests and simulation, behavior and usage aspects. Cooperation between a wide range of stakeholders, including the European Commission, national authorities, industry, vehicle manufacturers, user and research organizations, is critical for implementing the recommendations.

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