Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/30

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Information and Communications Technologies for safe and intelligent vehicles’

(COM(2003) 542 final)

(2004/C 112/08)

On 14 October 2003 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned communication.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 2 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Ranocchiari.

At its 407th plenary session (meeting of 31 March 2004), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion unanimously.

1.   Background


Demand for transport has been growing steadily in Europe for many years. The increase has been particularly great in the case of road transport, for both passengers and goods.


This increase is already resulting in traffic congestion, environmental damage and, above all, accidents that cause fatalities, injuries and material damage. These problems could worsen in the near future.


The motor industry is working constantly to improve the active and passive safety of its products. Vehicles are now four times safer than in 1970 and the number of deaths in the EU-15 has fallen by 50 % since then, while traffic volumes have tripled.


Despite this, the societal cost of road transport is still too high. The 1,300,000 accidents per year in Europe cause 40,000 fatalities and 1,700,000 injuries, at an estimated cost of EUR 160 billion, or 2 % of the Union's GDP. At a personal level, even one fatality is too high a price to pay.


Mindful of the seriousness of the problem, the Commission has launched a number of major road safety initiatives, including the adoption of the European road safety action programme.


Even before the programme was drawn up, information and communications technologies (ICT) – already widely used in vehicles – were identified as important instruments for improving road safety. With the development of more powerful processors, communications technologies, sensors and actuators, increasingly sophisticated active safety systems can be devised. Although these cannot eliminate accidents completely, they can reduce their number and lessen their impact.


These considerations led the Commission to set up an eSafety working group in 2002, bringing together around forty experts from the motor vehicle sector and other interested parties. The group was mandated to propose a strategy for speeding up research, development, deployment and use of ICT-based intelligent safety systems for improving road safety.


In November 2002 the working group published its final report containing 28 recommendations addressed to the Commission, the Member States, road traffic and safety authorities, the motor industry, service providers, consumer associations, insurance companies and other stakeholders. The recommendations are designed to improve safety by means of integrated systems which use advanced ICT for providing new, intelligent solutions that address the involvement of and interaction between driver, vehicle and road environment.


The working group's report was subsequently discussed and endorsed at the second meeting of the high-level group on eSafety, which set up an eSafety Forum (1) and called on the Commission to put forward policy proposals.


The communication that has now been referred to the Committee forms the Commission's response to the wishes of the high-level groups on eSafety and road safety, which have also been echoed by the Member States.

2.   Summary of the Commission's proposals


The communication refers to and endorses the final report of the eSafety working group and proposes eleven actions falling into three main categories:


development of intelligent vehicle safety systems


adaptation of regulatory and standardisation provisions


removing the societal and business obstacles.

2.2   Promoting intelligent vehicle safety systems

The Commission will continue to chair and support the eSafety Forum, which provides a joint platform for all road safety stakeholders.

The Commission will take steps to promote further research and technological development, not least by helping to finance some leading-edge projects.

As regards interaction between driver and machine, the Commission will assess the effects of the introduction of nomadic devices (2) in vehicles and, at a later stage, the workload which the introduction of new vehicle control and information systems creates for the driver.

The Commission will propose an integrated strategy for pan-European emergency services (e-Call), building on the provisions of the E-112 legislation (3).

The Commission will assess progress on the provision of real-time traffic and travel information (RTTI) in Europe.

2.3   Adaptation of regulatory and standardisation provisions

The Commission will propose measures to authorise and regulate the use of the 24 GHz spectrum for ultra wide band (UWB) short-range radar (SRR).

The Commission will review existing EC vehicle type-approval legislation and devise measures for facilitating and regulating the use of the new systems.

The Commission will ask standardisation organisations (ISO, CEN and ETSI) to draw up a standardisation programme for the new systems, encompassing standard software and hardware architecture, communication protocols and driver-machine interfaces.

2.4   Removing societal and business obstacles

The Commission will assess the socio-economic benefits obtainable through the introduction of intelligent safety systems.

The Commission will promote and fund a study to devise a methodology for risk/benefit assessment of the new systems.

The Commission will promote the drafting of Industry and Public Sector Road Maps for the development and deployment of the new systems.

2.5   Other actions

The Commission will promote and fund a study to devise a methodology for assessing the potential impact of the introduction of combined intelligent vehicle safety systems involving sensor fusion (4).

The Commission will promote and fund a study of assessment procedures for vehicles equipped with the new systems.

The industry will define, produce, maintain and certify a European digital map database with road safety attributes.

3.   General comments


The Commission's communication makes a clear and exemplary commitment to the development and adoption of intelligent road safety systems, at a time when traditional passive safety systems may have reached their limits.


The general guidelines are clearly set out in the communication. The priorities are less clear (with the exception of e-Call, which is rightly highlighted). Above all, no timeframe is given for the action plan; at present there is only a work schedule for 2004. The Committee hopes that the drafting of the roadmap – one of the anticipated results of the eSafety Forum – will prove crucial for establishing the plan's priorities and timeframe.


It is important that the motor industry, which has already been involved in the working group and the eSafety Forum, should continue to provide technical guidance for the development of these initiatives, in particular by contributing to the drafting of the roadmap.


The motor industry will undoubtedly need guidelines for the market introduction of intelligent safety systems. However, each company must have the possibility of offering their own distinctive innovative solutions, with appropriate timeframes, without overlooking the vital need for the new systems to be interoperable and reliable.


In order to ensure that the new intelligent safety systems are deployed to best effect, steps will have to be taken to ‘educate’ users. To this end, it would be helpful for representatives of driving schools to take part in the eSafety Forum. Special attention should be paid to professional carriers, who could ‘pilot’ the introduction of the new systems and who will in any case represent a large number of users.


From a purely technical viewpoint, some safety systems such as ESP (an electronic system to improve the vehicle's stability in critical situations) could already be adopted on a large scale fairly rapidly. Other systems which are inherently more complex and more complicated to use will require careful analysis with a view to optimising the driver's workload (i.e. providing the best possible compromise between fatigue and risk of distraction).


The communication deals sensibly with the question of the shared responsibility of the various parties (Commission, Member States, road and safety authorities, the motor industry, service and system suppliers). However, responsibilities need to be defined and regulated in detail to cater for the eventuality of safety devices failing to operate satisfactorily. As the systems and functions are completely new, there is much work to be done. Nonetheless, as regards the question of responsibilities, it must be acknowledged that the Commission has already funded three research projects: Response, Response 2 and Prevent.


The Committee also notes that the communication puts a strong emphasis on the need for safer vehicles. The need to improve road infrastructure (newer and safer roads; elimination of traffic congestion) must on no account be overlooked. Moreover, many of the new vehicle safety systems will require special ‘intelligent’ infrastructure (e.g. telecommunications networks able to receive, decode and handle automatic emergency calls). The Commission should focus attention on these aspects and their impact.


In the context of intelligent infrastructure, the Community's Galileo programme is undoubtedly crucial, providing as it will a series of navigation and positioning services that will facilitate the development of a wide range of innovative eSafety applications.


The adoption of intelligent safety systems is likely to significantly increase vehicle purchase and running costs. Additional safety systems are possible when the consumer is willing to pay for them. The consumer must be shown that the extra cost is offset by a reduction in the risk of accidents and in their consequences. For this reason too, the Commission's plan for the eSafety Forum to collate and analyse data on the causes of road accidents is vitally important. More particularly, the CARE system (5) will have to be reorganised in order to include accident causes and an analysis thereof, supplemented where possible by data from motor manufacturers.


A practical illustration of the problem of increased costs is already provided by the e-Call service. Many car firms have offered the e-Call system as an optional feature, but demand for it has been low because few drivers want to pay for a service that they hope they will never need to use. The e-Call system, selected by the Commission as one of its priority actions, could act as a litmus test for the whole programme. Widespread adoption of the system is vital in order to reduce its running costs and thus the prices paid by users, exploiting economies of scale and competition between the different suppliers and avoiding monopoly positions.


Costs could also be pushed up by the need for workshops to be equipped with special apparatus for diagnosis, repair and inspections. However, it should be noted that this could also have a positive impact, as it will extend the skills of motor mechanics and could create new job opportunities.


One means of alleviating the problem could be to offer incentives in the form of tax rebates and/or reductions in insurance premiums. At all events, a consultation process involving all the various parties will be essential.


However it is very difficult, if not illusory, to imagine that private interests or sense of responsibility (whether on the part of manufacturers or users) will suffice to secure the generalised adoption of intelligent safety systems. As an alternative or adjunct to voluntary adoption, the case should be considered for introducing a legal obligation in the form of binding rules. These would make the phasing-in of intelligent safety systems mandatory within a given timeframe.


In any event, the costs of safety functions will impact on the client and the taxpayer. It is therefore particularly important that the costs/benefits calculations should be objective and reliable.

4.   Summary and conclusions


The communication is a policy document which does not yet contain specific or binding measures. The Commission may draw up and put forward such measures in due course, so the Committee feels it is worth highlighting some points which it thinks should be borne in mind during the further development of the programme.


The communication makes a clear and exemplary commitment to the development and adoption of intelligent road safety systems. Interested parties should therefore welcome it, not least because it also stresses that road safety is the shared responsibility of all the various stakeholders.


However, the intentions voiced in it should be implemented according to an action plan which should be defined forthwith. Greater emphasis must also be placed on the need to work on road infrastructure (newer and safer roads; elimination of traffic congestion) and new ‘intelligent’ infrastructure.


Responsibilities need to be defined and regulated precisely to cater for the eventuality of safety devices failing to operate satisfactorily.


Each company must have the possibility of offering their own distinctive innovative solutions, with appropriate timeframes.


The adoption of intelligent safety systems is likely to significantly increase vehicle purchasing and running costs. These increased costs could have a major impact on ranges at the lower end of the market, making it more difficult for the less well-off to afford them. The early adoption of awareness-raising measures and incentives will be crucial here. In the medium term and for certain safety systems, consideration could be given to the introduction of a legal obligation.


Lastly, the Member States will play a key role in the success of the programme. The dialogue which has already been launched with the Commission, the industry and other stakeholders must continue, with involvement of the individual states throughout the whole process from the outset, on the basis of clear policy guidelines. Without technical and economic input from the Member States, the programme would not be able to succeed.

Brussels, 31 March 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  The Forum is chaired by the Commission's DG INFSO and brings together all stakeholders (around 150 members in all). It currently has seven working groups, headed by the motor industry.

(2)  Devices which drivers carry with them and can interact with the vehicle, such as mobile phones or PDAs (a type of electronic notepad), and which can be used as a remote control for some vehicle functions.

(3)  Directive 2002/21/EC establishing a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services (OJ L 108 of 24.4.2002).

(4)  This is a technique for integrating data supplied by sensors that use several different technologies, so as to overcome the inherent limits of each one. For example, a dual technology (radar + infrared) anti-theft sensor is only activated when both components register an intrusion, thereby eliminating false alarms caused by the intrinsic limits of one of the two technologies.

(5)  Community Road Accident Database: gathers and processes data on road accidents supplied by the Member States.