Increasing efficiency and safety
Cooperative vehicle-infrastructure systems offer truly the most promising new services for all actors involved in road transport, to the extent that they represent a revolution in both the way the transport system could work in the future, and in the scale of benefits available to infrastructure owners and operators and to individual road users.
The number of casualties in Europe (40,000 deaths per year) due to road traffic is still unacceptably high, even if it has reduced significantly over the years due to safer vehicles and infrastructure and policies on wearing of seat belts and alcohol consumption. Car ownership and use have continued to grow steadily, and the resulting congestion in built-up areas and on main highways has become a significant overhead cost and burden for travellers, for the economy and for the environment. Cooperative systems could easily lead to savings of around 10% in harmful emissions, casualties and congestion costs.
Cooperative systems offer the potential to reduce these impacts by creating additional effective road network capacity and a more efficient utilisation by vehicles. Cooperative vehicle-infrastructure systems in fact offer one of the best potentials for avoiding the need for “more concrete” – which is not an option in most places in Europe today. “Autonomous” traffic management technology is rapidly approaching its limits for a positive impact on traffic efficiency, and further gains are at increasingly higher costs. Thus, once every city junction has a dynamically adaptive traffic control system and there are variable message signs showing where there are serious traffic problems, there is little that can be done further without communicating directly (and cooperatively) with individual vehicles.
The cooperative road network adapts in real time to actual demand. Information about traffic, incidents and hazards will be available for the entire network, and will contain far more detail than today’s traffic information broadcasts. For the first time, network management systems will be able to interact with vehicles individually rather than by averaged group behaviour. There will be fuel savings and improved air quality because cooperative systems will reduce queuing time, searching for a parking space and stop-and-go driving in heavy traffic.
So, if cooperative systems are so effective and produce such benefits, one could ask why there are none today, in either vehicles or at the roadside. The answer is clear: the technologies that are needed to create applications where vehicles and roadside infrastructure can talk to each other directly are not yet fully developed and validated. Also, the main entities involved are not yet persuaded of the utility and benefits of investing in cooperative system RTD, and the whole domain is as yet undeveloped.
The figure below shows how cooperative systems can break the “vicious circle” of ever-worsening traffic problems by offering – for the first time – new ways for drivers and their vehicles to interact (and not just react) with a more intelligent infrastructure. And that new intelligence is due to new kinds of information that come, at least partly, from individual road users.
Reinforcing European competitiveness
Cooperative systems technology developments are moving fast in both North America and in Asia, with large-scale national programmes supported by substantial dedicated budgets in both the USA and Japan.
Europe needs to match the level of effort currently deployed in these other regions, to avoid the risks that the technology challenges will be solved elsewhere, that regional standards become the “de facto” norm in Europe and that European customers have no European products to choose from. Also, the opportunity to engage the broader supplier and operator communities would be missed, thus losing the potential stimulus to deployment that comes from helping to design and validate these new systems.