Road safety on the line

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 20 March 2019

How are our roads keeping pace with automated cars?

As more and more cars introduce semi-automated safety systems, is our road infrastructure keeping up? RACV joined Australia’s peak road transport body to test how effectively lane-recognition systems recognise road line markings. 

Driverless cars were once a flight of fantasy, the stuff of science fiction movies, but it now appears the dawn of fully connected and driverless vehicles is closer than we think.

There are various predictions about when fully automated vehicles will hit our roads, or indeed, if fully automated vehicles will ever be realised. In terms of highly automated vehicles, the technology development is currently well ahead of global and Australian regulations.

What may be surprising is that there are already a significant number of vehicles on sale in Australia fitted with semi-automated driving systems.

Test cars preparing to go through their paces at the Driver Education Centre of Australia in Barnawartha North

Test cars preparing to go through their paces at the Driver Education Centre of Australia in Barnawartha North.

Trickle-down effect

Thankfully, advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) are no longer just the domain of high-end European manufacturers.

Traditionally, premium car-makers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover, would introduce new technologies to their higher-end models, and before too long mainstream car-makers from Japan, South Korea and the US would adopt similar tech.

Many active safety features have trickled down to more affordable fare and this is only going to increase as car-makers and tech companies continue to work towards developing and perfecting driverless vehicle technology.

Some systems are designed to alert the driver to a potential hazard, like a blind-spot warning that uses a visual or audible warning to advise the driver that another vehicle is in its blind spot.

Other systems such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) helps avoid or reduce the severity of a collision by slowing or stopping the vehicle, while adaptive cruise control regulates speed to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front.

Some affordable small cars that start in the low-to-mid-$20,000 price bracket, such as versions of the Kia Cerato, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla, now offer such features. 

Roads playing catch-up

With more and more car-makers rolling out their version of these technologies, the industry is reviewing the need for better and more uniform road infrastructure. One key area of focus is road line markings. 

Statistics show that about half of all Australian road fatalities are caused by vehicles running off the road. While this is currently being addressed by physical infrastructure such as safety barriers, roads that are specifically designed to optimise automated steering functions are also expected to bring safety benefits.

On the testing ground

Austroads, Australia’s peak road transport and traffic organisation, recently held a trial in Albury Wodonga to test the interaction between the systems and the line markings as part of a wider study that looks at how vehicles interpret physical infrastructure.

RACV sent two people from its vehicle engineering team – Greg Hill and Tim Nicholson – to assist with the trial.

The testing was led by a team from consultancy firm WSP, with representatives from Austroads, Ford Australia and 3M on hand to assist collecting real-time data about road line markings.

While some of the tests were conducted on a variety of roads close to Wodonga, much of the testing was in a controlled environment at DECA (Driver Education Centre of Australia) in Barnawartha North.

A selection of recently released vehicles from various manufacturers were used for testing, including a Kia Cerato sedan, Ford Focus hatchback, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Toyota C-HR crossover, Honda CR-V SUV, Volvo XC60 SUV and a Mercedes-Benz CLS four-door coupe.

All vehicles featured a lane-keep assist system and various advanced active safety equipment.

Keep an eye on RoyalAuto later in the year for the results of the trial.