Global Road Safety Between Chance and Strategy

Growth would be inconceivable without mobility. Still 1.2 million people die in road traffic accidents every year. Road safety is a global matter – and yet different everywhere.

Paint peels off the wooden hut in the middle of the African housing settlement. A boy in a tank top comes out with his knapsack and greets his friend. Together they run through the dusty labyrinth of huts and two other children join them – this is the walk to school in Southern Africa. Heavy traffic races past them on the four-lane main road. The first sprints across and makes it to the median strip. The other four also gradually make it across. Traffic lights, crosswalks, school crossing guard, or cars that slow down for children? Not here.

In the short film “Save Kids Lives” by the renowned French director Luc Besson, the protagonists make it to school in one piece. This certainly isn’t a given: every day, 500 children around the world die in road traffic. In developing nations, in particular, the number of victims is increasing hand in hand with the growing motorization trend. What can be done to stop having to lament 1.2 million road traffic deaths and around 50 million serious injuries every year? What protects pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicle occupants? Assistance systems and autonomous driving? Or perhaps speed limits, traffic circles, and cycle lanes?

While in many countries in Africa, there are ramshackle vehicles on the road with worn tires, new cars in highly developed countries are equipped with ESC and airbags as a matter of course. The aim of the Global NCAP-led campaign “Stop the Crash” – in which ZF is also involved – is to give countries all over the world access to safety technology. According to David Ward, chairman of the campaign: “Regulating the installation of safety technology by law is the best way of reducing the number of road traffic fatalities.”

A battle for survival in Nigeria

With 20.5 road traffic fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, Nigeria’s roads are very unsafe. By way of comparison, 10.8 people die per 100,000 in the USA, 4.3 in Germany, and 2.8 in Sweden.

Mobility in Nigeria means poorly maintained roads and vehicles, lots of motorbikes, and barely regulated areas for pedestrians – in other words, traffic is a battle for survival. In 29 percent of fatal accidents, the cause is excessive speed. Just 60 percent of motorbike riders wear a helmet, even though it is prescribed by law. There are hardly any traffic checks. The attitude is rooted in the culture and fatalistic in character: survival is predestined and thus a matter of fate rather than behavior.

Seat belt dodgers and high-tech

Yet there is also room for improvement in industrialized countries. A particularly high number of car drivers die in the USA – almost four times as many as in Sweden in relation to the size of the population. Individual wrongdoing is often the cause: the USA is in third-last place among industrialized nations when it comes to using seat belts, and 38 percent of children killed in cars were not buckled up. Drivers distracted by cell phones is now the cause for one in ten accidents.

According to Dr. Debra Houry, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in the USA: “Other countries with high incomes have better outcomes, so we can also do things better.” She recommends buckling up, avoiding alcohol, and sticking to the speed limits. At the same time, the USA is putting its faith in high technology: Columbus, Ohio, has been awarded the status of “Smart City” in a competition. Innovative technology is being integrated into a traffic system there for the first time, including autonomous and networked vehicles as well as intelligent sensors.

In March 2016, practically all car manufacturers undertook to install automatic emergency braking assistants by 2022 in all new passenger vehicles built for the American market. Other programs are examining the potential of vehicle-based systems such as collision warning based on radar and options for car-to-car communication.

Modern industrialized nations are using high technology to make mobility safe for all road users.

Meticulously pursuing a vision

Things are completely different in Scandinavia. The fact that Sweden is now leading in road safety matters is primarily down to the philosophy of Vision Zero, which the country has been committed to from the end of 1990s onwards: since people make mistakes, the environment must be adapted accordingly. Results of the consistent implementation of the philosophy include structural separation of the opposing directions of travel on highways, separate pedestrian and cycle lanes, and car-free play zones. If it is not possible to separate the different areas, pedestrian safety has priority over car traffic. Together with further measures, it has thus been possible to significantly lower the number of seriously injured car drivers outside cities. Furthermore, almost 100 percent of occupants wear seat belts.

Vision Zero has long since evolved from a regional aim to a global goal.

Vision Zero – no road traffic fatalities – has long since evolved from being a regionally restricted aim to being a global goal. Irrespective of the individual strategies for its implementation, two things are necessary in order to achieve the goal: consistently implemented regulatory measures and quantum leaps forward in the area of vehicle safety. This may take the form of the obligatory warning beep when an occupant hasn’t buckled up or sensor-aided assistance systems.

ZF, too, has set itself the goal of achieving Vision Zero – and this in a double sense. Because alongside an accident-free world, the company is also pursuing the long-term goal of an emissions-free world.

“We want to make vehicles and roads safer as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Brian Loh, Vice President of active safety systems

As a global systems supplier, how is ZF able to meet the diverse safety requirements of different regions?
ZF develops products designed to increase safety for everybody. Our technology is scalable based on regional market needs. We serve the whole spectrum of active and passive safety needs from low end to premium end.


How does ZF determine each market’s technology needs?
We constantly monitor the market drivers: legal regulations and customer requirements. We also participate in working committees that develop regulations for a given region. In Europe, for example, there is more emphasis on urban driving while in the U.S. it's more about long-distance.


How do regulators and technology leaders like ZF work together to make traffic safer for everyone?
Technology development is advancing much more quickly than legislation. We want to make vehicles and roads safer as quickly and efficiently as possible. Governments like the U.S. also understand this, which is why they ask vehicle manufacturers, for example, to voluntarily agree to implement an automatic emergency braking function by 2022.

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