Driving and commuting are central to our daily lives. We rely on them for mobility to keep in touch with friends, relatives and associates; and to have our goods and services delivered to desired destinations. Driving also brings problems such as traffic congestion, pollution and accidents.
Over the last decade, ICT has totally redefined how we live, work, relax, play, learn, travel and virtually do everything; and I dare to add, how we drive. This feat has been heightened by the proliferation of internet technologies especially its web component. The spate of advancement in this regard gives very promising prospects for the sanitization of the road transport sector within a developing economy like Nigeria.
In many developing economies including Nigeria, various factors ranging from corruption to policy non-sustainability have been blamed for the backwardness and slow adoption of ICTs in general, and its application to road safety, in particular. The good news however is that this backwardness shall not be for too long, as advanced Technologies are globally being applied to many transportation problems. ICTs’ adoption in optimizing road safety and rescue operations are helping to achieve this ambition of a drastic reduction in road deaths.
This paper is intended as an introductory overview of the untapped and limitless prospects of the applications of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in improving the safety of road transportation and optimizing the management of rescue operations. While enumerating the challenges of ICT adoption, the paper also seeks to enumerate ways in which ICTs offer new advanced solutions to today’s road transport and road safety problems. It is intended as a means of stimulating further discussion and interest in the use of modern ICTs to increase the range of countermeasures available to all road safety stakeholders particularly road traffic authorities and road users.
Information and telecommunication systems are enabling ‘intelligent’ vehicles to interact with other vehicles and also the road environment, thereby making the road safer as a means of mobility.
The Goal of Road Transportation
The basic purpose of road transportation is the provision of faster mobility of people, goods and services through road channels. Mobility through road transportation often involves road machineries, cars, trucks, cycles as well as pedestrians. This movement from one location to the other becomes most effective when it is comfortable, reasonably fast, free from unnecessary and foreseeable obstructions, or otherwise said to be safe; and hence the term Road Safety.
Road Safety Defined
Road safety is the combination of all measures, activities, operations, awareness and regulatory enforcements aimed at the protection of lives and properties during all phases of road mobility including periods of distress. Road safety comprises of all guidelines, strategies and implementations focused on making road transportation effective, smooth and safe for the preservation of lives, property and services. The peculiarity of this paper obviously tilts towards road safety technology, while not relegating the other important arms of road safety education, road safety enforcement and road safety design.
Vulnerable Road Users
While the reduction of road fatalities is the target of road safety, special attention is usually focused on the following road users either because of their peculiar disadvantaged means of road mobility, their emotional status or their conditions.
1. Learner drivers
4. Disabled and physically challenged
7. Rally makers
Generally, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the fusion of Telecommunications, Electronics and Computer Information Systems used to retrieve, analyze, store, process, transmit, secure and intelligently interpret digital data either in storage or in transit. This fusion has so many segments including digital storage, Database Management Systems (DBMS), networking, data security, fibre optics transmission, VSAT connectivity, WiMAX networks, mobile electronics, plasma sensitivity, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), disaster recovery, software engineering and most importantly the internet and its web component.
Road Safety Technology
Road safety technology is the application of Technology to facilitate safe mobility, promote easier dissemination of road traffic information, ensure comfortable manipulation of road machineries, improve the efficiency of road traffic signs/alerts, promote mass awareness of safety consciousness, facilitate more effective rescue operations and improve the monitoring of the changing conditions of roads and machineries. ICT in road safety technologies is usually applied through the collation, storage, analysis and processing of vital electronic data including: weather readings, accident location co-ordinates, precise remote traffic light adjustment, warning thresholds, speed chart, driver alertness, and other data attributes. As a result of the remarkable impact of ICTs in all aspects of daily lives, the term “road safety technology” has come to be loosely synonymous to ICT-based initiatives applied to all aspects of road safety operations including vehicular Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
The Peculiarity of a Developing Economy, Nigeria
Development is said to occur in phases and at a predictable pace. However with the gross handicap of poverty, corruption, ethnic militia, political instability and ignorance, most third world economies are developing at such a rather slow pace that any remarkable positive change is hardly noticeable. This phenomenon has a direct negative impact on the acquisition, implementation and sustainability of ICT initiatives including those applicable to road safety.
With a population in excess of 140 million, and occupying OPEC’s favorable oil production statistics, Nigeria is certainly an unavoidable reference point of Africa’s development index. Little wonder, the avalanche of foreign investments in what may be metaphorically called “the scramble for Nigeria”.
Areas of Application of ICT in Road Safety
The big question is: How, and in which specific areas, can Information and Communications Technologies be applied to improve road safety and enhance rescue operations in a developing economy like Nigeria?
Intelligent Traffic Systems (ITS) utilize ICTs to manage driving, traffic, transportation and all factors that are important in one way or the other to transport safety, design and education. ITS systems could be in-vehicle systems, or external infrastructure support. Interfacing road infrastructure hardware with in-vehicle warning and control systems is another road safety groundbreaking technology.
1. Point to point communications (PPC): PPC enables Road safety officials to use high-speed radio systems to communicate between multiple locations and for vehicle-to-vehicle driver communications. Radio frequency (RF) channels, allocated by the telecoms regulatory body (the Nigeria Communications Commission NCC, in Nigeria’s case) are meant to be used to communicate from one location to the other among mobile road users.
2. Wireless networks (Wifi and WiMAX): Hand-held, portable electronic devices leverage existing cellular and private wireless networks to provide a one-touch access to traffic data, weather condition reports, transport news, etc. The efficiency of the systems builds on the currency of their data which updates in real-time and fully accessible from web applications (webapps) within contemporary smartphones, blackberries, android, iPad and other handheld electronic devices. Widely-used wireless standards include the Wireless Fidelity (Wifi) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) with varying supporting features (802.11b,g and 802.16e respectively).
3. Web-based road safety portals:
The World Wide Web (www), otherwise called the web is the single most important component of the internet which has given the internet its flare, glamour, fame and global relevance. The web represents the huge volume of resources, multimedia content and data bank which are limitlessly accessible using client browsers, and other web applications through networking technologies. Road safety web portals enable the continuous publication of interactive resources which can equip stakeholders with vital statistics concerning the true nature of traffic conditions, accident spots, nearby health institutions, and real-time distress calls. For effective road safety operations, the use of internet technologies provides an online data interactivity for the sharing of vital statistics among stakeholders in absolute real-time.
4. Automated Emergency Call System (eCall):
In alliance with reputable mobile network providers, the eCall is a communication system that designates a unique telephone number (often toll-free) exclusively for reporting emergencies and distress conditions. eCall can also be integrated into web-based road safety portals to give it wider access beyond the bounds of the cellular network’s coverage area.
5. IP-based CCTV and surveillance cameras:
Traffic Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) systems integrated together with surveillance cameras are video-based vehicle/motion detection systems used for remote surveillance of traffic situations to track offenders, to build usable traffic data and to provide an archive for future road transport enhancements. Specifically the use of Internet Protocol (IP) based CCTV systems and surveillance cameras introduces a lot of interactivity in the remote manipulation of the cameras, and also eases the task of searching for specific reference scenes. Under special investigative cases, the versatility of IP surveillance cameras enables them to replay specific traffic offences highlighting scenes of interest. This helps to enforce road safety compliance, curb recklessness, and also to improve the efficiency of road traffic personnel in apprehending offenders.
6. Speed monitors:
Strategically positioned along highways, speed sensors are two-way electronic communication devices that estimate the relative speed of road vehicles, and compares it with the stipulated speed limits. In advanced implementations, any speed over-shoot beyond the stated limit triggers a zoom-in from the nearest camera and the vehicle is instantly traced while video capture/recording is automatically activated. A signal is also instantaneously relayed to a nearby patrol team and such a vehicle can be followed and the driver quickly apprehended. A very beneficial refinement to the applicability of speed monitors is the automated accumulation of points by such drivers which could add up to lead to a license withdrawal
7. Car navigation systems (Driver support systems):
These are a range of intelligent systems that warn the driver based on information received from a central database or other environmental interpretations of what may appear to be adverse condition that may lead to a crisis if no precautionary measures are taken. Such warnings may include bad weather, obstructed lanes, speed limits, slippery lane, etc.
Other application of ITS include: 8. Sensing technologies and harmonic RADAR systems 9. Number plate recognition technology