The automobile will remain the most important traffic means in everyday life for the foreseeable future. The increase of vehicle safety is therefore one of the most important needs to be addressed by ITS technologies. The distinctive feature will be the awareness of the vehicle, of its environment and its driver’s behaviour. For instance, emulating the diverse functions that drivers perform every day: observing the road, observing the preceding vehicles, steering, accelerating, braking, and deciding when and where to change course.
The push to develop “smart cars” using Artificial Intelligence is part of a wider effort on the part of automotive manufacturers to respond to environmental requirements. Safety technologies already available include traction control, adaptive cruise control, intelligent speed adaptation, collision warning and avoidance systems, driver drowsiness detectors, night and bad weather visions systems, truck roll-over warning systems (See Driver Support).
Critical applications include driver and vehicle surveillance. Accidents are caused by driver inattention or from following the vehicle in front too closely. Ambient Intelligence will offer the opportunity to monitor the driver’s physical condition, diagnose signs of incapability to drive, warn the driver and intelligently influence his behaviour. An important limiting factor may be the reluctance of the driver to accept external control.
In the USA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system:
We are on the threshold of the first age of fully automated motoring. The future belongs to innovative driver-assistance technology. See Warning and Control Systems. Sooner or later, these systems will revolutionise active vehicle safety - much in the same spectacular way that electronic stabilisation programs (ESP) have done. Their objective is to prevent accidents using control technology such as an automatic emergency brake assist or the attention control feature that prevents drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
There is some opinion that increasing automation may not necessarily lead to improved safety in the longer term due to effects sometimes described as “risk homeostasis”. This is counterproductive behavioural adaptation when drivers start behaving in riskier ways as a result of a perceived increase in safety provided by ITS (or any other) devices. These effects have not been extensively researched and are often speculative.
Eventually people may prefer automated control to human control in a growing number of situations. However increasing automation raises many issues of risk and investment management. There will be major issues about the rate of deployment of these vehicle control systems once it becomes clear that major reductions in accidents can be achieved using these systems compared with leaving the drivers in control. Testing, responsibility and accountability of intelligent systems are also major issues. Who will guarantee the collective behaviour of multiple vehicles?