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Road safety and automation in road traffic. (Source: Dutch Safety Board)
Road safety and automation in road traffic. (Source: Dutch Safety Board)

Who is in control? Road safety and automation in road traffic

Status : Closed

On the basis of accident investigations and a literature review the Dutch Safety Board has identified a number of types of new road safety risks that are not yet sufficiently recognized or managed. When they are placed on the market, ADAS are often not yet fully mature. This means that following permission for use on public roads, they undergo further development. Together with the lack of knowledge among drivers, situations in which drivers fail to understand why the vehicle responds or indeed fails to respond in a particular way can quickly arise.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

As the name suggests, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are systems that assist the driver in carrying out the primary driving task. ADAS observe the environment using sensors and are able to take over control of speed or driving direction, subject to the responsibility of the person at the wheel. Systems of this kind are also able to warn the driver in situations that the system considers dangerous.


Manufacturers introduce new systems because technology makes it possible and to make their cars more attractive for their customers. Road safety is not a basic principle in the design process right from the start and insufficient account is taken of the driver who is required to operate the innovation. Moreover, vehicles today are not designed in such a way that safety is maintained throughout their lifecycle. The exchange of knowledge and transparency are not common practices within the sector. 


Dutch and European policy are aimed at encouraging and indeed making the installation of ADAS obligatory. This is based on the ambition of reducing the number of road traffic accident victims. However, there is no elaborated vision on the required level of safety in relation to the desired extent and direction of innovation. There are no systematic risk analyses and no determination has been made of how the risks can be mitigated or what is needed to arrive at mitigating measures. Furthermore, within the policy, there is insufficient focus on the current generation of systems. Government attention is above all aimed at the distant future in which vehicles may be able to operate fully autonomously. Current measures from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management aimed at filling the knowledge gap among drivers are a step in the right direction, but are not sufficiently binding.

Black box

At a whole number of levels, ADAS are something of a ‘black box’. Following an accident, the police are often unable to access the data and there is no knowledge at all of which cars are equipped with precisely which ADAS and whether the systems were activated. It is also unclear for all types of ADAS what effect they have on road safety. There is a lack of sound monitoring and evaluation following the introduction of these new technologies. The monitoring of accidents involving ADAS could be integrated in regular accident investigations. One positive development in this connection is that from now on Rijkswaterstaat (Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management) has commissioned the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research to investigate fatal accidents on national highways. This offers a basis for investigating the role of ADAS in the occurrence of fatal accidents, thereby boosting overall learning capacity.



To the automotive manufacturers and the OICA and ACEA umbrella organizations:

1. Demonstrate that the development and introduction of ADAS is taking place according to the principles of responsible innovation.

To the BOVAG and RAI Association:

2. Ensure that BOVAG members fully instruct their customers on the possibilities and limitations of their vehicles equipped with ADAS. And make sure that BOVAG members are able to do this.

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management:

3. Take the initiative within the UNECE to place human factors and responsible innovation on the agenda.

4. Support the initiatives of Euro NCAP to make human factors and consumer information about ADAS an integral part of the vehicle safety assessment (Euro NCAP star system).

5. Improve the possibilities for learning from road traffic accidents in general and the role of ADAS in particular, and take measures aimed at improving road safety on the basis of the study results.

6. Within the European Commission, argue that vehicle regulations must tie in with the current generation of ADAS (SAE level 2 and lower). Responsibility for demonstrating that new ADAS improve safety must be placed clearly in the hands of the manufacturers. Moreover, attention should be focussed on the introduction of requirements relating to human factors, user training, access to data from ADAS following accidents and accident investigation by manufacturers.

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