Neil Greig - IAM RoadSmart's director of policy and research
Ironically, in this crucial moment for the UK’s future in the EU, I have found myself visiting two excellent European cities in the past few weeks – a very unusual occurrence.
Following a suggestion from IAM RoadSmart Council member Professor Angus Wallace I had submitted two papers to the seventh biennial Expert Symposium on Accident Research (https://esar-hannover.eu/) held in Hanover. One paper was based on our distraction research from last year and the second on our driverless car survey from April.
75 delegates from 16 countries listened to presentations (in English) on a variety of very detailed accident studies on many interesting topics. I was one of only two UK delegates – the other being conference organiser Professor Pete Thomas from Loughborough University. As one might expect there was a strong turnout of German car manufacturers with senior crash researchers there from Mercedes, Audi and Volkswagen.
The IAM RoadSmart paper on driverless cars was well received and it did appear that a ‘consumer’ approach was unusual among a conference dominated by technical papers on car design, crash testing and statistical analysis. The questioning was a little nerve racking given the number of doctors and professors in the room! For example, a leading Korean academic was very keen to know if we had looked at any differences in distraction based on gender. As yet, the answer to that is no!
I received a number of useful insights into research work going on around the globe. For example, in many countries carmakers sponsor active fast reaction crash investigation teams who rush out to any crash involving a VW or an Audi! Usually based around their factories the teams involve local universities in reconstructing the crash and looking at the human factors behind them. They interview those involved in a non-judgemental way to try and glean insights that will help with future car design. There may be scope for a UK based car maker to adopt a similar approach. So in the future if you crash your Jaguar in the West Midlands, your Toyota in Derbyshire or your Nissan in the North East expect a few more searching questions to be asked!
I also learned about a very interesting use of driving simulators to assess dementia and minor cognitive impairments from a University in Athens. This is one concept we could certainly look at researching in a UK context. I would also draw your attention to the EU Safety Cube. It’s not a successor to the Rubik’s cube but a ‘design support system’ to help decision makers invest in road safety programmes that really deliver. Its aim is to catalogue all available road safety research. Approaches such as training and education are often overlooked in such projects but now that we know about it we can remedy this. You can learn more at http://www.safetycube-project.eu/ and http://www.safetycube-project.eu/wp-content/uploads/ERF_WH_M16.pdf
As well as raising our profile among worldwide accident research bodies, the most important outcome of our attendance was in ensuring that human factors and the voice of the consumer got a look in. With millions of pounds being spent by car makers on ‘research and development’ it is vital that we do does not get forgotten!