The changing role of artificial intelligence in road safety

14th Nov 2023

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in our society’s future is one of the most hotly debated topics of the moment. But what role will AI have in road safety, especially in an era of connected and autonomous vehicles?

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By Craig Thomas

The UK recently hosted a summit of the future of artificial intelligence, which took place against a backdrop of recent developments in the field – such as ChatGPT – and the debates prompted by this progress.

Much of the public discourse around AI is about dystopian outcomes, prompted by science fiction, which is the only reference point many will have for AI. However, AI could be a tool that humanity can call on to help change some of the most stubborn human behaviour and its negative outcomes.

Road safety is a good example. Statistical studies show that human error is the cause of 94% of vehicle collisions, although this figure is sometimes challenged. So if AI can help minimise – or even eradicate – those collisions in the coming decades, it will make the world’s roads safer places

Sensors on wheels

Alongside the development of autonomous cars is the technology to help all these vehicles to talk to one another, known as vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), as well as highway systems and infrastructure. 

This vehicle-to-everything (V2X) system, together with AI, can acquire information from diverse sources, expanding the driver’s perception and ability to avoid potential collisions. 

Together, these technologies facilitate vehicles sharing information about their speed, direction and location with each other, along with infrastructure such as traffic lights and road signs. AI can analyse this data to predict potential risks and take pre-emptive action, significantly enhancing road safety.

For example, if a vehicle suddenly slows down, it can communicate this information to any vehicles behind it. The AI algorithms in the following vehicles can quickly process this information and react accordingly, preventing any potential rear-end shunts. In the same way, if a traffic light is about to turn red, it can communicate this intention to any approaching vehicles, allowing them to slow down in advance.

Alleviating congestion

Increased safety isn’t the only benefit of AI: Enabling vehicle communication systems can also improve traffic flows and reduce congestion. Using AI to analyse masses of data from multiple sources will help it to predict traffic patterns and suggest optimal routes. This type of intervention can help to evenly distribute traffic across the road network, reducing congestion and improving overall efficiency.

However, as the Bletchley Park summit and the commentary around it suggests, integrating AI in vehicle communication systems won’t be without significant challenges. One of the main questions, for example, is the reliability of AI algorithms, which will be crucial when you consider the critical nature of driving decisions that it will make in the future. AI algorithms will need to be thoroughly, if not exhaustingly, tested and validated to ensure their reliability.

It looks increasingly like AI will play a crucial role in how vehicles, infrastructure and other systems will interact to try and improve road safety. AI will help create vehicles that can perceive their environment, communicate with each other and with infrastructure, and make real-time decisions.

Ensuring the reliability and security of these systems will be critical in realising the full potential of AI in improving road safety. 

CIHT has explored the wide role of AI in reducing congestion and its impact on helping achieve net zero in The role of data and artificial intelligence in achieving transport decarbonisation.

Image: Road traffic accident involving luxury cars, Shutterstock

Image: Road traffic accident involving luxury cars, Shutterstock

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