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Improving Road Safety With Artificial Intelligence

It can help make driving safely the norm rather than the exception.

13/04/2017 3:02 PM IST | Updated 17/04/2017 9:15 AM IST
B Mathur / Reuters

Road safety is a pressing issue in India and the country has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of traffic accidents in the world. According to data released for 2015 by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, about 1374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads. India is participating in the Brasilia Declaration and has committed to reducing the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2020. Despite efforts to improve road safety and save lives, the number of road accidents increased by 2.5% from 2014 to 2015.

To put in place effective solutions to address the problem requires getting to the root cause. The data indicates that more than 75% of road accidents that have occurred could have been averted by training drivers and improving driving standards. This training could have potentially reduced about 75% of the injuries and fatalities. Also, the fact that cargo vehicles like trucks and tempos are prone to road accidents makes it critical for fleet managers of transportation and logistics companies to enhance their safety management programmes. It is a wake-up call because it is often the case that driver training and safety sit low on the totem pole of fleet managers' priorities. Fleet managers play a key role in their employees' road safety records (and public safety, by extension) and engagement is key. Fleet drivers need to be educated and encouraged to practise safe driving habits.

Much of the technology and learning from the area of autonomous driving can be transferred to improve the manned vehicle experience

Emerging technology can lend a helping hand. Specifically, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) that have contributed to positive results in many areas of business can help improve driver safety. Computer Vision using Deep Learning is the practical implementation of AI and machine learning. Using computer vision we can accurately measure driving performance, put in place driver training and coaching, and create incentives for drivers to handle their vehicles in a safe and effective manner.

There is a lot of interest in autonomous driving, with significant investments announced by companies and governments in this area. But we are several years away from full autonomy and we need to invest now in our drivers to improve road safety. Fortunately, much of the technology and learning from the area of autonomous driving can be transferred to improve the manned vehicle experience. High-definition cameras and onboard sensors are used to capture the environment around the driver and the vehicle. This information is analysed in real time using powerful integrated processors and Deep Learning algorithms. Any unsafe event or incidents of concern that are detected and analysed are sent to the fleet along with the relevant video and sensor information. This includes intelligent detection of events such as traffic light violation, lane departure, tailgating, sign violations and relative speeding alongside classic inertial detections of hard braking, hard acceleration and hard turns. These solutions help fleet managers monitor their vehicles closely and react in real time reducing the possibility of risky driving becoming a critical event. They also provide metrics to measure and manage every driver's performance on the road, providing data to recognize good drivers as well.

In addition to contributing to public safety, these traffic management solutions can help a company's bottom line as well. Monitoring fleet drivers closely and helping them to improve their skills not only makes them and those around them safer, it also helps cut down costs related to property damage, victim compensation costs, legal and criminal issues, theft and loss of productivity. And mostly importantly, it helps protect the company's image and goodwill by minimising catastrophic events on the road.

Fleets have been expanding rapidly in India, for logistics, cargo and personal transportation (cabs). As companies across the board are investing in automation to help improve their workflow and streamline costs, it is high time that fleet management companies deploy technology to improve their outcomes in this critical area where human safety is at risk.

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