Safety first as researchers cut the road toll
Giulio Ponte, Andrew van den Berg and Marleen
Sommariva completing a headform test
on a windscreen to evaluate
the pedestrian safety of a vehicle Last year in South Australia 102 people died on our roads and a further 753 were seriously injured. While these figures are too high, one thing is certain – they would have been far worse without the unique insights delivered by researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR).
For more than 40 years the centre has been conducting world-class research into all aspects of road safety and its findings have had a major influence on car designs, road layouts and government policy. This in turn has helped to significantly reduce the preventable loss and suffering occurring on our roads. Since 2004 in South Australia fatalities have decreased by 26 per cent and serious injuries by 43 per cent.
Lumen has taken a look at some of the key areas where CASR is helping to drive the road safety agenda.
Test laboratory a life saver for pedestrians
When adult pedestrians are hit by a car they are run under, not run over. This may sound like semantics, but it’s a critical piece of information for vehicle designers. CASR researchers made the revelation after an in-depth accident study which showed that the shape of a vehicle strongly influences the resulting injuries.
Their research program is supported by Australia’s only purpose-built vehicle safety laboratory which specialises in pedestrian impacts. The laboratory is the official testing facility for the pedestrian component of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
“Our Kent Town laboratory was initially developed to study the cause of brain injuries in road crashes but is now primarily used for research into the relationship between vehicle design and pedestrian protection,” said Associate Professor Jeremy Woolley.
“Results from the research are proving crucial in helping manufacturers produce vehicles that are more pedestrian friendly.”
Jeremy has been a senior road safety researcher at CASR since 2003 and took over as director at the end of last year. He said the laboratory’s work on pedestrian protection uses computer modelling to assess the motion of pedestrians during a collision and reconstructs head and leg impacts.
“CASR engineers designed testing machines that shoot dummy heads and legs fitted with sensors at the front of a stationary vehicle to measure the extent of injuries,” he said. “They can be fired at speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour to simulate the forces in a real-world collision.”
The at-scene in-depth crash investigation teamCrash investigations throw up surprises
CASR researchers are often among the first at a crash scene. Their in-depth crash investigations are unique in the world for their level of detail – and the results are saving countless lives. It was through such research that they discovered that even the smallest increase in travel speed is important.
“Our evidence helped convince transport regulators to lower country and city speed limits and the results have been immediate and significant,” said Jeremy.
"We showed that in city areas every 5 km speed increase above the 60 km per hour limit doubles the risk of being involved in an injury crash.
“Once the state lowered the default speed limit from 60 km to 50 km in built up areas the annual number of injury crashes dropped by more than 200 and pedestrian crashes fell by over 30 per cent. You can’t get better proof than that.”
The results are just as significant on rural roads where reductions from 110 km to 100 km per hour were found to reduce injury crashes by almost a third. CASR’s crash-scene investigations have also prompted engineers to rethink the way roadsides are designed. Rather than clearing trees from the sides of roads – which often triggers community anger – CASR has shown that safety outcomes can be better with new barrier technology.
“CASR researchers attend about 50 road crashes every year and over the past decades we’ve developed an impressive database,” said Jeremy.
CASR showed that over half of all fatal crashes and 90 per cent of injury crashes are the result of mistakes, inattention or lapses in judgement – not extreme behaviour. The finding has been instrumental in helping to shape South Australia’s current policy Road Safety Strategy 2020: Towards Zero Together.
Testing driverless cars
Driverless vehicles are the next big thing in automobile development – and CASR is already playing an important behind-the-scenes role. The centre’s breakthrough research into autonomous vehicle safety systems is proving a key advantage in the State’s push to attract driverless vehicle technology manufacturers.
“Our state is the first in Australia to pass legislation allowing manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles on our roads and CASR will be closely involved,” said Jeremy.
In the past vehicle safety has been focused largely on protecting occupants in a collision while technologies of the future are all about avoiding the collision in the first place. Research by CASR is helping to test the effectiveness of many of these systems.
Its recent research into autonomous emergency braking – a system that uses forward facing sensors to automatically trigger the brakes to avoid a collision – showed it could prevent 25 to 35 per cent of crashes.
Another world-first study of wirelessly connected vehicles found that half of all injury crashes could be avoided along with a third of fatal accidents. CASR has also demonstrated the value of automatic crash notification technology by using its crash scene database to highlight how many lives could have been saved.
Story by Ian Williams