Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The title of this high-level panel session is: Role and Trends of Automation in Transport: Safety, efficiency and sustainability. Let me make it clear from the outset: for me, safety comes at the very top of that list. Far ahead of the others.
Of course I have high expectations of smart mobility in our battle against congestion. Of course I have high expectations of the contribution that smart mobility can make in reducing carbon emissions. After all, air quality and green mobility are central to the Inland Transport Committee’s strategy until 2030. But everything hinges on road safety.
First, because every victim is one too many. Every serious accident represents a human tragedy. Because someone loses a parent, a grandparent, a partner or a child. Or is left disabled for life. Every year, around the world, 1.3 million people are killed in traffic accidents. We simply can’t accept that.
But there’s another reason to make road safety the number one priority when it comes to smart mobility. The excessive focus on accidents involving self-driving cars shows us that the risk appetite for computers that make mistakes is exceedingly small. It doesn’t matter how many conventional vehicles, of whatever type, are involved in accidents. Accidents involving self-driving cars will make the front page.
And people – car buyers – will boycott these new systems if they don’t trust them. We can’t let that happen, given the great advantages of self-driving vehicles…
So how do we tackle this issue? How can we ensure that innovation isn’t driven by technology, but by safety and security? This, ladies and gentlemen, is something we have to do. We as authorities. All of us here at the UN Inland Transport Committee.
We can prescribe safety by design. We can prescribe driver monitoring, so that the car keeps an eye on the driver and ensures they’re able to respond quickly. We can ensure that the car gets a driving licence. Yes, the car itself – not just the driver. The vehicle must be able to demonstrate that it can drive in traffic safely.
We can decide the direction in which the car industry will go. By drawing up legislation avant la lettre. Putting the legislation before the self-driving car.
Also, I would like to see the industry to inform both current and future drivers accurately and extensively about the use of the systems they have in their car. If they have self-driving systems, manufacturers will have to bear explicit responsibility for the driving task of the vehicle. Only by doing this together we can ensure that a new generation of vehicles is introduced responsibly.
And the way things are progressing, we can’t put it off much longer.Vehicles that are largely capable of driving on the main road network independently, with autopilot and congestion avoidance systems... Truck platoons… Shared shuttles (like pods and people movers)…
These are all expected to be on the market within a few years. The vehicles of the future are being designed now. We’re heading for a long period of mixed transport modalities. And that mix, too, must be made safe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m honoured that the Netherlands is increasingly seen as a frontrunner in smart mobility. A week ago, KPMG declared the Netherlands the best-prepared country in the world when it comes to automated vehicles. I’m proud of that.
Thanks to our practical ‘learning-by-doing’ approach, we’ve acquired a lot of experience. So we’ve gained better insight into the opportunities and risks regarding road safety. And it’s thanks to that insight that I’m sounding the alarm here today – as I also intend to do in other international forums.
If we want to achieve a scenario with zero road deaths, zero traffic jams and zero emissions – and self-driving cars have the potential to make that possible – then road safety needs to be the number one priority. This means something needs to change.
The role of the driver, for instance, must dovetail with the development of new technologies and innovations. Drivers are – and will remain for a long time to come – responsible for what their vehicle does. Does the driver know what to do? And when?
For instance, when the car gives control back to them? It’s vital that expertise on behavioural psychology finds its way to the automotive sector.
And it’s also vital that we, as authorities, work closely with the car industry. If we are to draw up appropriate legislation for the future, we must be involved in industry designs at an early stage.
Yesterday, our working parties on traffic safety and technical regulations, WP1 and WP29, held a joint meeting. That’s an excellent development. If technology and behaviour are to be integrated, these parties will have to work together even more actively and closely…
And then there’s infrastructure. That, too, is an important part of road safety, and it’s mainly the responsibility of authorities. If we want to give smart mobility wings, then our roads need to be in good shape, both digitally and physically. Vehicles and driver support systems must have reliable information about local traffic regulations and speed limits. About roadworks, accidents and closures. And, ideally, about hazards like ice or fog.
Uniform, real-time information that can be processed digitally and automatically. Both for general road users, and for specific ones like truck drivers and shippers. What’s more, the data needs to be safe: protected from hacking and improper use.
And it’s here, in the Inland Transport Committee, that we can smooth the way towards seamless, safe mobility of persons and goods within and between our countries. Working Party 1 recently adopted a resolution on the deployment of highly and fully automated vehicles in road traffic. That’s a big step forward. A step that provides a legal foundation for responsible further development. I want to make maximum use of it.
Collectively testing and gaining experience in trials and experiments requires legislative scope for experimentation. So our motto must be ‘Safe and responsible testing’. Let’s tackle that jointly, across borders. I’m happy to make Dutch expertise available, and for our part we’re keen to learn from you.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We in Europe have the ambition to lead the world in this field. Because, from that position, we can blaze a trail for the rest to follow. We can determine what route we take. I’m choosing the route where safety is the top priority. And I hope that all of you – the Inland Transport Committee and the Working Parties – will join me!