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Project Success Stories - Smarter than your average transportation system

Human error is involved in 95 % of road accidents. This means that intelligent transportation systems could help make Europe's roads safer. An EU-funded project has sought to pool Europe's fragmented research capacity in this crucial field.
Project Success Stories - Smarter than your average transportation system
The good news is that, thanks to concerted efforts and effective policies and measures at both the EU and national levels, European roads are getting safer. The total road death toll, for example, fell by 44 % between 1991 and 2006, and dropped by 23 % since 2000.

Nevertheless, growing mobility does exact a heavy human toll. In 2006 alone, 43 000 died in accidents on EU roads, which is more than 20 times the total fatalities in rail and air transport combined, despite the headlines grabbed by train or aeroplane crashes. In 2008, the figure fell slightly to 39 000 deaths, with 1.7 million people hurt.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can play an important role in improving road and transport safety, as demonstrated by the EU's eSafety initiative which seeks to roll out smart road safety and environmentally friendly eco-driving technologies.

Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are already finding applications in the fields of in-vehicle information systems, advanced driver assistance systems, and traffic and transport management. They can also boost interactions between different infrastructures, such as transport and telecommunications, as well as between different transport modes (air, rail and road).

In addition, they have huge economic potential, as the market for in-vehicle driver information systems (IVIS) and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) grows, such as pedestrian or vehicle detection technology.

To err is human

Investigations into the causes of road accidents reveal that human error is involved in 95 % of cases. For that reason, road telematics and driver assistance systems can help improve road safety, not to mention enhance mobility.

But for such systems to be effective and useful, as well as to avoid any potentially harmful effects, they need to be built around users' needs right from inception. Europe's research community possesses excellent research and development capacities for ITS, including in the areas of cognitive and human-factor engineering, but these have traditionally been fragmented and scattered.

'Human-centred design for information societies technologies' (Humanist), an EU-funded network of excellence which ran from 2004 to 2008, sought to de-fragment Europe's research efforts in these areas by building bridges between the Union's isolated pockets of expertise.

The network ― which boasted 130 members from 25 organisations ― brought together some of Europe's leading road safety and transport research institutes who sought to coordinate their efforts with a view to avoiding duplication, bolstering the societal benefits of ITS, harmonising national approaches, reacting quickly to new technological developments, and facing up to international challenges through state-of-the-art research.

During its four-year lifespan, Humanist contributed to the formulation of European policy in this area, including valuable input to the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) which seeks to mobilise all stakeholders so as to ensure timely, coordinated and efficient application of research resources to meet the continuing challenges of road transport.

In the context of the EU's eSafety initiative, two members of the Humanist network took part in the eSafety RTD working group which provided stakeholder input to shape the Seventh Framework Programme's (FP7, 2007-2013) work programme on ICT for mobility. In addition, three senior Humanist researchers were members of the eSafety human-machine interaction (HMI) working group. There they updated the European statement of principles on HMI for safe and efficient in-vehicle information and communication systems.

One area of concern with ITS is whether their effects on the behaviour and attitudes of drivers will be entirely positive, or whether they may encourage certain negative habits, such as an over-reliance on technology or recklessness.

Humanist helped build understanding of how ITS influences a driver's behaviour. It organised several conferences and workshops on the subject which brought together leading researchers in the field and promoted the exchange of knowledge. A book, entitled 'Critical issues in advanced automotive systems and human-centred design', has also been produced by the network, which according to Jean-Pierre Medevielle, Humanist's coordinator, is 'considered the reference document' in the field. In addition, the network produced a multimedia tool for the training of drivers on the use of ITS.

Virtual excellence

One of Humanist's main achievements was to create an online platform for stakeholders in the field of human-centred design for road transport to share ideas and resources, coordinate and integrate their efforts, and develop joint activities. The 'Humanist virtual centre of excellence' (Humanist-VCE) was officially launched in early 2008.

The Humanist-VCE is a network of more than a dozen research centres and universities from across the EU and Norway which builds on what Humanist has achieved by 'renewing the strategic research agenda, sharing new knowledge and a joint vision of the scientific future of the domain, and boosting the new generation of scientists through ad hoc training, in-depth education and the immersion of young scientists in the world of their elders', according to Mr Medevielle.

The virtual centre provides its members with a platform to promote research cooperation and next-generation research and development, disseminate findings through training, and encourage members to participate in collaborative research projects at the European, national and international levels.

It also organises regular conferences. The most recent took place in Berlin, in April 2010, which drew more than 110 participants from academia, industry, and public and private research bodies in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia.

Humanist-VCE members are currently involved in a number of EU-funded projects under FP7 in a variety of areas, including developing testing methods for electronic safety systems, investigating driver-system interactions and the effects of systems on driver behaviour, as well as data collection and analysis, and system modelling.

Moreover, several researchers from the network have been appointed as lecturers on a new master's degree programme in 'human factors and new technologies for transport'. Its main goal is to promote knowledge on human factors and ergonomics that should help improve the design and implementation of ITSs and inform the process of formulating specific regulations to enhance performance and safety. The first edition of this master's programme began in December 2009 at the Higher Institute for Education and Science (ISEC) in Lisbon.

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