Mercedes-Benz data making London's roads safer

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Vision Zero

London traffic can be bewildering – behind the wheel or for tourists on foot who look the wrong way out of habit when crossing the roads of the British metropolis. But regardless of whether it's left-hand or right-hand traffic: with the driving assistance systems from Mercedes-Benz and the Mercedes-Benz Road Safety Dashboard, a digital tool from the Urban Mobility Solutions division, driving safety can be dramatically boosted.

Just another afternoon in Soho: There are many tourists in the narrow streets of the popular shopping district. Some use the bicycles that can be rented everywhere in the city – also to escape the bustling Oxford Street, with its cars, buses and taxis. But it still gets a bit tight for space at one corner, because the cyclists, who are unfamiliar with the area, want to turn off – directly into a one-way street. An oncoming car just manages to brake and luckily nothing happens. From across the street, a market stall vendor comments: “It's not the first time I've seen something like that here.

These incidents, termed “near-accidents”, almost never appear in any statistics. They are not even recorded by the police or other authorities. This means that there is a lack of reliable information that could lead to clear safety precautions, such as traffic lights, signs or bollards. But the data do exist: in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The information from the Driving Assistance package, including PRE SAFE PLUS, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist or Active Brake Assist for emergency braking, can be used to identify and defuse potential danger spots.

25,000 roads, one goal: Vision Zero

“Vision Zero” is a vision of traffic without injuries and fatalities. It was first introduced to road transport in Sweden in the late 1990s, and in recent decades, the idea of transport planning based on safety, health and human life has gained worldwide acceptance. According to the European Commission, no one should be injured on the continent's roads in 2050. The British capital is confidently aiming for the year 2041 for its own Vision Zero.

Painting “Look Right” on kerbs and zebra crossings for visitors is certainly not enough to achieve an accident-free London within the next twenty years. It is true that the inner-city congestion charge for conventionally powered cars and lorries, which has been in place since 2013, has helped to reduce internal combustion traffic in London by a whopping third. Nevertheless, there were still more than 30,000 accidents in the city area in 2018 alone, even if the vast majority of them were only minor.

Until now, the city has been relying on road maps and its own digital accident data to identify dangerous spots on the 25,000 or so roads within a six-mile radius of the central Charing Cross junction. Unfortunately, this was only possible after recorded incidents had actually occurred. Potential danger spots, where risky situations had previously turned out harmless or had simply not been recorded by the authorities, fell through the cracks. This is precisely where the Mercedes-Benz Road Safety Dashboard can help.

Data for more safety

The digital tool was developed by a team of engineers, security experts, data protection specialists and data analysts from the city's transport authority Transport for London and the Urban Mobility Solutions (UMS) division of Mercedes-Benz and has been tested on the road over the past two years. With great success: “We are committed to our Vision Zero strategy, which aims to remove all serious or fatal crashes from London's roads by 2041. Working with Mercedes-Benz helps us to develop new data-driven technologies that bring us closer to achieving this goal”, explains Rikesh Shah, Head of Commercial Innovation for Transport for London. He believes that with the advances in technology, it is essential for his organisation to think about completely new digital methods to make London's roads safer. “The insights from this tool are fascinating. We are currently looking at how we can make more intensive use of data from vehicles across London to better assess various risk situations and plan and roll out appropriate safety measures”, adds Rikesh Shah.

From sensor to risk balance

Sensor technology such as ultrasound, radar or stereo cameras enable modern assistance systems to detect various objects in the vehicle's surroundings. The detection zone can include following, preceding, crossing or even oncoming vehicles – but also pedestrians, road markings and various types of traffic signs. If an acoustic and visual warning or even an autonomous emergency braking is issued, this information is sent to the Mercedes-Benz Cloud and anonymised. Two algorithms process the data in the Big Data platform: first, GPS positions with clusters of the incidents are identified, then these potential accident blackspots are analysed in detail, and finally a risk score is calculated. This information is then displayed in the Mercedes-Benz Road Safety Dashboard. It shows possible danger spots on a digital road map – clear, simple to operate and user-friendly for the authorities.

The anonymised vehicle data from the assistance systems are enriched with additional data from the City of London. This includes existing traffic infrastructure such as traffic lights or zebra crossings, information on past traffic events as well as vehicle, cyclist and pedestrian density. This makes it immediately visible on the dashboard to the local authority where action may be needed. The focus in this case is above all on the most vulnerable road users: people, especially children, on foot or on bicycles. The City of London therefore keeps a particularly close eye on high-risk situations in areas around schools, nurseries and universities.

Data stream pioneers

The Urban Mobility Solutions division was launched by Mercedes-Benz to make urban mobility as a whole safer, more sustainable, more efficient and more accessible. Since its launch in 2019, the partnership with Transport for London, an influential and globally respected authority, has been pioneering work in this area: “Together with Transport for London and our experts, we launched this ground-breaking road safety programme and have now completed the development phase. Our vision is to protect all road users with our active safety systems”, says Daniel Deparis, Head of the UMS division. The partnership with the London specialists plays an important role in this. “Together we can effectively overcome the complex challenges in urban environments and make an important difference to safety,” adds Daniel Deparis.

Daniel Deparis
Daniel Deparis

Data protection is of course a key priority in this project. No information is transmitted without the drivers' permission. Those who wish can easily give their consent to the anonymised transmission and processing of the data via their Mercedes me app if they have an account to do so. This is because only after consent is given are warnings or autonomous braking operations sent from the vehicle to the Mercedes-Benz cloud where they are processed – completely anonymised and without the need to store camera images.

Following the successful deployment of the Road Safety Dashboard in central London, projects are now underway in several large and medium-sized European cities. This is how data streams in places with very different local conditions help to defuse dangerous situations and protect people. The Road Safety Dashboard will soon transform Vision Zero into reality not only in London, but in many other cities too.

London traffic.
London traffic.

Holger Mohn

Sees himself as a classic desk editor - for printed media in the past, and for digital media today. From the daily newspaper to employee newspapers and magazines to the company website, he has accompanied a wide variety of media and formats - mainly at and for Mercedes-Benz and Daimler. And this despite the fact that the confessing Hesse wanted to do the job in Stuttgart "for three or a maximum of four years". He would vehemently deny it, but it seems that living and working in exile in Swabia has its pleasant sides.

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