Innovation and safety: creating a safer road transport ecosystem

Posted: 24 October 2019 | | No comments yet

Matthias Maedge, IRU’s General Delegate to the EU, explores how innovation is shaping the safety of current and future road systems, and the challenges that must be overcome in order for the industry to progress.

Innovation and safety: creating a safer road transport ecosystem

Over the past decade alone, technology has revolutionised the way we live our lives. Today, cloud computing, big data analytics and digital-first consumer experiences are part of our everyday routines. Road transport has been no exception to the innovation revolution. Whilst autonomous vehicles and flying taxis have been catching the attention of global media, many of the areas where innovation has had the biggest impact in road transport have been in relation to safety.

Safety is the number one priority for the road transport industry but there remain a number of challenges we must overcome. Every year, between 1.25 and 1.5 million people die on the roads around the world. In 2017, 88 per cent of American truckers had their safety threatened and IRU research shows that, in Europe, one out of every four drivers has been a victim of violence or an attack.

Solving the problems of today with the technology of tomorrow

One of the biggest opportunities for improving operations in the road transport industry comes from innovation, with the aid of new technologies. Technology is disrupting industries worldwide, providing solutions to make processes more time and cost efficient, and offering new ways of solving problems.

Transport companies and operators alike recognise that embracing and investing in technology will bring significant improvements and benefits. In fact, IRU global research carried out last year revealed that one in three (33 per cent) transport companies worldwide believe that improving safety will be the biggest opportunity brought about by innovation.

There are already a number of examples of innovations within our grasp, which can help us make the sector safer and more attractive:

Upgrading vehicle technology

By investing in upgrading in-vehicle technology such as anti-collision braking, route planners, smart tachographs and increased use of automated systems, we can ensure vehicles become much safer. This is an area where many operators throughout Europe are already investing.

Improving driver lifestyle

As well as enhancing vehicles, technology can also be used to help improve driver lifestyle and drive efficiencies indirectly. In logistics, Lithuanian company Girteka Logistics is investing in tablets for truck drivers to allow them to store important information (such as licenses and tachograph details) for journeys. This reduces the time they have to spend at border checks and controls, therefore reducing driver stress and tiredness.

Equipping drivers with the latest knowledge

We can invest in certification, embracing the very latest driver training technologies to improve skills development. This will make the industry not only safer but more professional, helping to encourage more potential entrants into the profession. IRU has been working in this area since May 2019, partnering with leading Spanish operator ALSA, to implement a computer-based assessment programme for use with its drivers.

The prospect of automation

Of course, when discussing innovation in the road transport industry, we cannot overlook the opportunities offered by automation. As the reality of driverless vehicles comes ever closer, we are already seeing pieces of the automation puzzle fall into place. This includes technologies such as anti-collision breaking, which are being rolled out and improving road safety today.

There are nonetheless significant barriers that the industry will have to overcome, before autonomous vehicles can become widespread. One main challenge lies in user acceptance: ensuring we have the trust, support and understanding of other road users and the general public. As well as regulatory and infrastructure developments, public education campaigns will be a necessity for the roll out of driver-less vehicles.

To help ensure automated technologies are deployed in a coordinated and harmonised manner, the European Commission has set up ARCADE, a three-year EU-funded project. IRU’s role in this project is to identify challenges and potential future societal scenarios for connected and automated vehicles. By bringing stakeholders together in this way, we can ensure that all feel the benefits of automation, including improvements to safety.

The industry will only thrive through cooperation

Embracing technological innovation in the short term will naturally modernise the industry and make it safer. Road transport must develop as demand grows. Yet again, technology will have an important role to play in the longer term, with emerging innovations such as platooning systems.

In order to harness the opportunities offered by innovation, we need every stakeholder in the sector to work together, but it will take time and buy-in from everyone, including governments and regulators who must ensure the industry has the legislative and regulatory environment to make the required changes. Technology and innovation have proven to bring widespread benefits to road transport, but these benefits will only be achievable when the opportunities are accessible to all players within the industry, however big or small.


Matthias Maedge is General Delegate of the IRU Permanent Delegation to the EU. His vision is to further increase IRU’s voice for commercial road transport in Europe and ensure the industry is ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead. Prior to joining IRU, Matthias spent 10 years in the vehicle and energy industry, including as Secretary General of the Natural Gas Vehicle Association (NCGVA). Matthias previously worked in the German parliament and started his professional career as an Officer in the German army.