Wednesday, June 19, 2024

EU takes step towards digitising road transport infrastructure

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EU countries and European Parliament lawmakers reached an agreement on Thursday (8 June) on EU rules governing digital traffic data, a key step to improve traffic flows, reduce accidents, and usher in a more connected driving experience, according to policymakers.

Under the provisional agreement – which must be formally ratified by the European Parliament and the Council before becoming law – member states will be required to use intelligent transport systems (ITS) along major roads, enabling vehicles and infrastructure to better communicate.

Hardware will be installed along primary roads to facilitate ITS, which uses electronics, sensors, and satellites to capture data.

The new rules require information on speed limits, roadworks, and access to transport hubs to be shared digitally.

The data generated can make roads more efficient by alerting drivers to bottlenecks, regulating traffic lights, and instantly contacting emergency services if a crash occurs.

In addition to updating digital road signs, the information collected will be deployed to improve navigation apps, make it easier to book journeys that combine different transport modes and help connected cars to communicate with one another.

The law will additionally boost the bloc’s preparedness for greater vehicle automation through better connecting AI-assisted vehicles with their surroundings.

The file’s rapporteur, socialist lawmaker Rovana Plumb, said the deal will make roads safer and improve the performance of transport networks, whilst ensuring “that authorities at all levels start preparing for the new digital environment”.

The shadow rapporteur for the centrist Renew group, Izaskun Bilbao, said the mobility data generated will be used to “improve our lives”.

“The big data resulting from the digitisation of mobility enables new services and promotes the best transport combinations with maximum efficiency,” she said.

Jens Gieseke of the centre-right EPP group, the biggest faction in the European Parliament, hailed the agreement for helping to “reduce traffic congestion and shorten travel time while improving safety on our roads”.

EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said in a statement following the agreement that intelligent transport systems are “vital” to tackling Europe’s emissions and congestion problems.

The deal “will make travel in the EU more efficient – and safer – for drivers, passengers and businesses alike”, she added.

Andreas Carlson, the Swedish infrastructure minister representing member states in the negotiations, hailed the deal as a means to “boost our Union’s evolution towards a smarter, safer, more efficient, and more sustainable mobility”. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council.

Scope criticised

Despite the praise from lawmakers close to the negotiations, the scope of the agreement came under fire from industry and safety campaigners.

Both the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) and ACEA, a trade association representing EU carmakers, had pushed policymakers to include all roads in a planned EU database mapping changes to speed limits.

Having a digital map of speed limits is needed to ensure that assisted driving features can remain in line with shifting speed rules, they argued.

“Motorway speed limits tend not to vary much, whereas national road speed limits often change as roads pass through town centres and rural areas,” the two organisations said in a statement.

“Most urban and rural roads, where the vast majority of collisions occur, will not be covered.”

Despite the organisations’ plea, the final deal reduces the number of roads covered to key corridors, in a concession to member states.

Graziella Jost, vehicle safety specialist at ETSC, said this contradicts one of the key aims of the ITS, which is to support the safe roll-out of automated vehicles in the future.

“These vehicles travel on all types of road, across the whole of the EU, so limiting the scope of critical information like speed limits to only the major roads is incomprehensible,” she said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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