For most of the 20th century, the U.S. was on the forefront of traffic safety. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Road safety in the U.S. is far below the level of best-performing countries, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
The reasons include factors associated with humans, vehicles and infrastructure. Because of the complexity of the problem, to ultimately bring fatalities to zero, a wide variety of efforts are necessary.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is dedicated to interdisciplinary road safety research, focusing on identifying risk factors and future needs to reduce road fatalities. UMTRI examined five risk factors associated with road safety that, if addressed, would yield the largest improvements:
- Failing to use seat belts
- Alcohol-impaired driving
- Young drivers
- Nighttime driving
These factors often occur at the same time; in fact, the total estimated benefit from addressing all five problems is a crash reduction of more than 100%. A holistic view of implementing various safety countermeasures, from vehicle safety technologies to providing metrics for policy change, would maximize their effectiveness. However, a tool that can demonstrate the combined impact on road fatalities from various safety technologies and legislative practices is not available.
UMTRI will leverage its previously developed tool called UTMOST: Unified Theory for Mapping Opportunities in Safety Technologies. The core of this tool is a statistical model representing crashes in terms of pre-crash conditions, occupant characteristics, crash type and injury outcome. Overlaid on this is a model of the effects by implementing a number of safety countermeasures, including active safety technological countermeasures and public policies.
Because the current version of UTMOST focused on injuries, not fatalities, the main goal is to expand the capabilities of UTMOST to include predictions of how fatalities are affected by active safety technologies and public policies, and to develop modules to estimate benefits from passive safety improvements.
The tool also will help identify characteristics of the remaining fatal crashes and identify what improvements in active and passive safety systems would be needed to bring fatalities to zero.