“A great deal achieved, but no time to relax”
Stuttgart/Berlin. Only half as many road traffic fatalities in 2020 as in 2010 – in 2011 the VDI company for vehicle and traffic technology (FVT) associated itself with this overall European transport policy goal in its “Berlin statement on vehicle safety.” However, the half-time results that FVT chairman Prof. Dr‑Ing. Rodolfo Schöneburg reported at the 10th VDI Safety Convention in Berlin show that considerable efforts are still needed to achieve this goal.
The number of accident fatalities has been stagnant in Germany over the last five years. In 2010, 3648 people were killed on Germany’s roads, compared with 3377 in 2014. “These figures are still high, even if an international comparison shows that we have already achieved a great deal with respect to road traffic safety,” says Schöneburg, who is also head of vehicle safety, operating durability and corrosion protection at Mercedes-Benz Cars. “But we must not let up now: every traffic fatality is one too many.”
There are many different reasons for this development: “Looking more closely at the accident statistics shows us that we have achieved a great deal where vehicle safety is concerned. Around 50% of the accident fatalities are vehicle occupants, with a continued downward trend,” says Schöneburg. “On the other hand, the figures also show that unprotected road users outside the vehicles are increasingly among the victims – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.”
Preventive protection for more vulnerable road users
It is therefore necessary to employ preventive measures to avoid accidents completely, or at least mitigate their severity. Schöneburg: “Predictive safety systems and environmental sensors are able to intervene with measures such as warnings, brake preconditioning and automatic emergency braking to significantly lower impact speeds, and in many case perhaps even prevent a collision.” Car-to-X communication also has great potential. Infrastructure systems “observe” the traffic situation and produce a situation report, enabling vehicles ahead to send out messages for following traffic. A warning can be sent to other vehicles when a hazardous situation arises. “Classic” infrastructure measures must also be pursued further: known accident black spots must be eliminated, road lanes separated from bicycle lanes and the visibility of pedestrians and two-wheeled traffic improved. And finally, according to Schöneburg, we need to think about making a helmet compulsory for cyclists.
Better survival chances in modern passenger cars
One of the focal points at this year’s VDI Safety Convention was the question of how the number of road accident victims in Germany can be reduced on a lasting basis by 2020. Several problem-solving approaches were presented in the area of “protection of passenger car occupants and other road users” by Michael Fehring, head of Concepts, Child Safety and Low Speed Crash at Daimler AG.
- New assessment methods for innovative safety systems: development tools such as the virtual man model are more precise than crash test dummies in revealing what happens to vehicle occupants in an accident.
- Supporting integral safety assessment methods: integral safety systems can then be assessed in terms of their potential before and during an accident; this requires an extended and completely simulation-based platform.
- Improving the performance of restraint systems for passengers in the rear.
- Use of existing environmental sensors for pre-crash measures, e.g. for active restraint systems.
- Renewal of the vehicle population.
“The number of fatalities in older vehicles lacking modern safety features is disproportionally high,” Fehring commented on the last of these points. If 16 million vehicles produced between 1990 and 2004 were to be replaced by more modern models with the latest safety technology, up to 36% of fatally injured car occupants could survive. “This is because accidents that happen with older vehicles can in part be avoided with modern vehicles. And very many accidents with older vehicles that have a fatal outcome for the occupants would be survivable in modern cars.”
In a specialist presentation, Mercedes-Benz development engineers Dr Julien Richert and Ralf Bogenrieder introduced the safety innovation “PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side” at the VDI Safety Convention. If an unavoidable side collision is detected, air chambers in the seat backrest side bolsters inflate rapidly to preventively move the occupants sideways, away from the danger area. This increases the distance between the occupant and the door. What is special is that the system is already triggered shortly before contact with the other party. PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side will have its debut in the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class in spring 2016.
Mercedes-Benz supports the State Road Traffic Safety Organisation in North Rhine-Westfalia
As a side-event during the VDI Safety Convention, Prof. Dr-Ing. Rodolfo Schöneburg presented a cheque for almost €18,000 to Burkhard Nipper, CEO and director of the State Road Traffic Safety Organisation in North Rhine-Westfalia (LVW NRW).
This is a donation by Schöneburg and the two Mercedes-Benz engineers Marica Paurevic and Hans Weisbarth of the prize money they received in June together with the “2015 Medal for Environmental and Safety Technology” awarded by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in recognition of the belt buckle feeder which they developed.
The donation will be used for the furtherance of road traffic safety. LVW NRW projects include increased public awareness for wearing a seat belt when driving – despite an already high seat belt wearing rate of over 90%, the number of vehicle occupants killed in accidents in North Rhine-Westfalia alone last year who were not wearing a seat belt increased from 17 to 24 compared with the previous year, an increase of 41%. And with its flyer “Driver assistance systems: a guide for senior citizens”, the LVW NRW provides information about the availability and operation of modern assistance systems in passenger cars, thereby also supporting older road users in remaining mobile as long and as safely as possible.