By Francine Romine
Director, Marketing and Communications
University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute
Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their report on early estimates of traffic fatalities and fatality rates in 2021. It was sobering. Fatalities increased in every category tracked — rural roads, interstate, time of day, gender, impaired drivers. And we know from the data that the risk to vulnerable road users (VRUs) is increasing, as well: young drivers, older drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Overall, fatalities are estimated to be up 10.5% compared to 2020, when 38,824 lives were lost.
These are more than just numbers to us at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Every day our researchers are focused on multidisciplinary research to advance safe, equitable, and efficient transportation and mobility. We have spent the last 55-plus years trying to reduce the number of lives lost, the number of lives impacted by vehicle crashes, in order to reduce the negative societal toll that these events have on our lives, our families, and our communities. We have conducted thousands of research projects, published thousands of articles and reports, and worked with sponsors in industry and government to influence manufacturing design, policy and in short, to change the negative effects of our current transportation and mobility systems. We are particularly proud of the work we are doing in the area of equity and improving safety and access for VRUs.
Recent data shows that 93% of the world’s fatalities on roads occur in low- and middle-income countries. In high-income countries like the U.S., people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in crashes. Social inequity in transportation has a disproportionate impact on historically underserved communities, rural communities, and their residents.
The most transformational and innovative solutions of the last half century are in connected and automated vehicles and infrastructure. We know that when fully deployed connected vehicles can reduce nearly 80% of unimpaired crashes. Over the past 20 years, UMTRI has conducted over $75 million in connected vehicle research, including the operation of the largest deployment of connected vehicles and infrastructure in the world. We are now working with sponsors in industry and government to look specifically at the impacts of CAV and infrastructure on VRUs and in historically underserved communities.
In 2021, UMTRI was awarded a $9.95 million project by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration to deploy 21 “smart intersections” that will be capable of gathering and transmitting information in real time to connected and automated vehicles. One example of this project is already being deployed: we have installed infrastructure at one of the worst roundabouts in Michigan. Since installation in late 2021, the smart roundabout has seen several crashes and near miss events. Because we can do all of this in real time, we are able to predict vehicle trajectory and deliver warnings to connected vehicles to prevent crashes. This project also will include pedestrians and bicyclists.
Later in 2022 we will be launching a transformative project in the city of Detroit. The Detroit Automated Driving Systems (ADS) Demonstration grant, (also awarded by the Federal Highway Administration), aims to accelerate the deployment of ADS technology by enabling a heightened level of comfort among regulators, users, and other stakeholders. This project seeks to develop an ADS safety evaluation process and deploy an automated vehicle service for seniors and individuals with disabilities in Detroit. A portion of the ADS grant will be dedicated to the deployment of ADS vehicles in Detroit to understand how this technology can improve mobility and health outcomes for Detroit’s senior population.
Researchers throughout UMTRI are performing research to facilitate the development and integration of CAVs and systems onto roadways around the world. UMTRI’s Behavioral Sciences Group is conducting research that will help us better understand how drivers, particularly vulnerable drivers such as older adults, learn about and use automated technologies and systems as well as how trust influences the acceptances and use of vehicle automation. The Biosciences Group are experts in occupant protection in particular for individuals who travel in wheelchairs, and our Human Factors Group is developing and testing a host of experimental protocols, including designs to reveal the likelihood of motion sickness and inattentive drivers, just to name a few.
UMTRI has one of the largest, most efficient, and high-quality naturalistic datasets in the industry, including the largest set of connected vehicle data in the world. This data, combined with our expertise in safety, is being applied daily to transforming our current transportation and mobility system for all, regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status.
We are always looking for partners on this journey!
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