InTrans / May 01, 2015

The more you know: What technologies can help reduce road fatalities?

Go! Magazine

Seat beltsposted on May 1, 2015

In the last article, “The more you know: How countries are combating road fatalities,” we talked about the types of laws that could be put in place to make roads safer. In this article, we will be taking a look at some of the newest technologies that could help reduce road fatalities.


Let’s look at some different methods and how they can slow down those “speedy” drivers. Some low-tech ideas (i.e., low cost) include traffic calming measures like speed humps and clearly displayed speed limit signs. These methods are tried and true traffic calming measures. The first speed hump implemented was in St. Louis, MO, in 1979. Did you know, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, that speed humps reduce car speeds to 10-20 miles per hour (mph) and can reduce collisions by an average of 13 percent?

Speed hump on a residential street
Speed hump on a residential street.
Photo from Wikipedia.

That’s not “technology” you say? That’s not “new-age” enough you think? In countries across the world, high-tech solutions (apps, smart cars) are also being implemented.

Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app and is all about contributing to the “common good” out there on the road. With the use of tablet and smartphones only growing each year, the Waze app is just a single download away. How it works: Before starting the car, drivers can check local traffic reported by other Waze users currently on the road or even share road reports on accidents, police traps, and any other potential hazards. While driving, drivers can leave the app open and Waze will passively collect data just by monitoring your speed in certain areas. The driver can also activate the voice notifications to report police locations or construction zones. Since 2009, over 11 million users have used the app, including local TV news stations. Apps like this help drivers avoid areas of variable traffic speed areas (stop-and-go traffic), which have shown to be related to an increase in the number of crashes.1

Another new technology is one developed for Ford’s newest minivan model the S-Max, which has become extremely popular in parts of Europe. The S-Max works by using what is call the “Intelligent Speed Limiter,” which is a button on the steering wheel that allows drivers to set a maximum speed. This maximum speed is then automatically adjusted as the car takes a picture of a proximal speed limit sign. The car does not apply the brakes, but rather reduces the amount of fuel going to the engine to slow the car. If the driver needs to deactivate the system and drive over the speed limit (while merging, for example) they can either press the intelligent speed limiter button off or press firmly on the gas pedal.

Seat belts

Let’s take a look at the United States now. Despite the enhanced safety measures of having a seat belt, an average of 14 percent of men and 6 percent of women ages 17-29 do not wear seat belts while driving in the US.2 Of course, there are always excuses. The common ones include “I forgot” and “I was only traveling down the street (a.k.a. a short distance).”

Air bags for seat belts
Air bags for seat belts

Now let’s look at two high-tech, no excuse, solutions to driving with your seat-belt on.

For countries with seat belt laws in place, technologies like a seat belt reminder (SBR) system could be helpful. More reminders, more notifications, means more of a chance that seat belts will “click on.” Currently, SBRs are not mandated in the US, though it has been suggested by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Did you know that, according to the Department of Transportation, cars with SBRs showed an increase of seat belt use by front seat occupants by 3.3 percent compared to cars without SBRs?

Another high-tech solution has been released by the Ford Motor Company. Their newest patented technology? An inflatable seat belt. These seat belts look and act like normal seat belts, but offer more cushion near the shoulder since an airbag is actually inside the belt. These belts can help reduce the speed at which a person hits an airbag, reducing injuries in a crash.

Drunk driving

Drinking. Driving. Don’t. Check out this “Did you know:” A survey by the World Health Organization found that out of 178 countries surveyed, drunk driving accounted for 30 to 40 percent of road fatalities.3

To be sure that people are more cautious about their blood alcohol content (BAC) before getting behind the wheel, let’s look at a new high-tech option for smartphones called “BACtrack.” BACtrack works by using Bluetooth technology. It works much like a breathalyzer, but after simply breathing into the device the resulting BAC level shows up on the phone. The app also lets people track their alcohol consumption over time, and even lets them know what time they should be sober enough to drive.

Another more proactive approach comes from researchers at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, Poland. They are looking at a new monitoring technology that uses external lasers to detect the presence of alcohol in a passing car. Sound dangerous? Well, it works by using a laser system (not harmful to people), which would be set up at a specific location at the side of the road. The laser technology system detects alcohol in the car and captures a photo of the car and license plate that is then sent to nearby police.

Although not a “new” technology, this next method has proven to be one of the most effective and practical ways of reducing drunk driving—the enforcement of random sobriety checkpoints with breath-tests. In some cases, this has reduced alcohol-related crashes by about 20 percent. Right now this strategy is performed in most countries, including Afghanistan, the United States, and Liberia.

One country has even taken their effort against drunk driving to the next level. Another strategy has been to limit the sale of alcohol from midnight through 3 a.m. on weekends (Thursday through Sunday). When this restriction was put in place in Lima, Peru, this reduced fatalities of victims of alcohol-related road fatalities by 28 percent.4


Two-wheel vehicles are popular modes of travel throughout the world due to the lower cost for fuel and for the vehicle itself. In the developing world, where motorcycles are more popular than cars, laws requiring helmets need to be put in place to ensure the safety of riders.

Motorcycle deaths are almost always related to head injuries. Therefore, high-tech options for new helmets are well received by cautious motorcyclists. One of the newest helmets includes a feature that allows the driver to see behind them and in all blind spots using a video screen located in the inside, upper right-hand corner of the drivers’ helmet (the camera is on the back of the helmet). The helmet is also voice activated and can be connected to a smartphone, which allows for hands-free calling and GPS navigation. This helmet’s technologies have the potential to help reduce motorcycle crashes by reducing blind spots and increasing the driver’s reaction time.


  1. Marchesini, Paula, and Wilhelmina Adriana Maria Weijermars. The relationship between road safety and congestion on motorways. SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, 2010.
  2. Christmas, Simon, D. Young, and Richard Cuerden. Strapping yarns: Why people do and do not wear seat belts. Department for Transport, 2008.
  3. Lee, Elizabeth. “Drunk driving increasing concern worldwide.” Alert Driving. Last modified March 2010. Accessed April 27, 2015.
  4. World Health Organization. Global status report on alcohol and health-2014. World Health Organization, 2014.

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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