Cars to be fitted with accident "black boxes"

The European Commission is pushing ahead with plans to have every car equipped with an aircraft-like "black box" that will record the vehicle's behaviour...

The European Commission is pushing ahead with plans to have every car equipped with an aircraft-like "black box" that will record the vehicle's behaviour immediately before and after a crash.

The project is part of a wider plan, the Intelligent Car Initiative, to make European roads safer and to save billions in the social costs of accidents, and to reduce traffic congestion to cut CO2 emissions.

Europe suffers more than 40,000 road deaths a year from about 1.3 million accidents, which cost around €200bn/y, or about 2% of the EU GDP.

EU research indicates that human error is involved in more than 90% of accidents, and human error is solely to blame in almost three-quarters of cases.

The proposed black box, which the EC wants fitted to all new cars from next year, will monitor 20 conditions in the vehicle through a network of sensors. They will record data for just 30 seconds before a crash and 15 seconds afterwards, to head off privacy concerns. The boxes will also alert emergency services to an accident.

But commissioners are keen to avoid accidents altogether. Other systems on the horizon include braking assistance, lane departure warning, collision avoidance and active pedestrian protection based on car-to-car communications. The vehicles will warn drivers and automatically correct for other vehicles' movements if the driver fails to respond quickly and appropriately.

eCall, a system to notify emergency services automatically in the even of an accident, could cut the death toll by between 5% and 15%, commissioners estimate. As well as reducing the personal toll, this could save up to €22bn in social costs per year. Applied to traffic jams, eCall could reduce congestion times between 10% and 20%, saving another €2bn to €4bn, they say.

The cost of traffic congestion

Traffic congestion in the EU costs another €50bn/y, or 0.5% of GDP. The number of cars per thousand persons doubled from 232 in 1975 to 460 in 2002. The overall distance travelled by road vehicles tripled in the last 30 years. In the past 10 years the volume of road freight grew by 35%, helping to jam 7,500km or 10% of the major networks daily.

In 2002 the transport sector consumed the equivalent of 338 million tonnes oil, 31% of the total energy consumption in the EU. Road transport's share was 26% and its CO2 emissions reached some 835 million tonnes per year, 85% of total transport emissions. Up to half of fuel goes on traffic jams and poor driving behaviour.

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