Software to Make Highways Safe

Dr. Srinivasan Ramani, Research Director, HP Labs India, located in Bangalore.

Suppose that a Jumbo jet crashed, killing all passengers in it, every day in India. A similar number of deaths occurs due to road accidents every day (377 deaths/day, or approximately 137,605 deaths/year). The country is not able to do much to reduce the number of these accidents.  I believe that our engineering colleges should do R & D to reduce the number of road fatalities. I will offer suggestions in this article. I hope they will trigger thinking and discussions. 

Reduce Speeding on Highways

India is making FASTags mandatory for highway users this month onwards.  This automates the recording of vehicle’s license-plate numbers and the time at which they cross toll gates. In each case, the distance to the next toll road is known. Therefore, any vehicle exceeding the speed limit between two toll gates can be detected easily. All we need is Internet connectivity to each toll gate. This could be through a landline connection or through a cellular connection. Procedure-wise, rules can authorize the police to seize any over-speeding vehicle unless the driver pays a specified fine on the spot. 

It appears to me that an app running on a PC or even on a cell phone can alert the staff at a toll gate. How many lives would this project save?

Highlight Fatality Sites  

A high fraction of vehicles have someone carrying a smartphone equipped with a map application. We can work with the app service provider to maintain and utilize a nationwide database of road fatalities: locations in which one or more lives were lost within the previous 30 days. As any app user approaches a fatality site the app can indicate this in a suitable manner and give details. The text should be written for the purpose of making users aware of the risks in that segment of the road.

Enabling every road user to be a safety warden  

We see dangerous behavior on highways. These include trucks standing on a highway blocking a lane, vehicles doing illegal turns and road crossings, vehicles not having the required lights on. Vehicles, usually two-wheelers, running against the traffic. Rarely do we report such problems and provide location information. An app can be developed to work with a map app. The map app could display a red disc or some such prominent icon all the time it is being used. The user should be able to use the icon and activate a reporting mechanism. This should automatically report the location. It should also enable the user to take a photograph optionally and add a short written-text. The reporting user’s identity should be protected by encryption, but should be available to a court if it is considered essential. The app should not require the user to stop at the place where the risk is present. That location should be identified as one where the user activated the reporting mechanism. The app should allow the user to complete the report within a specified time from the moment the reporting mechanism is activated. 

In conclusion, reduction of risks and fatalities is an essential objective in engineering. Technology can reduce road deaths by at least 25% within the next two years. That is, technology can save over 30,000 lives per year.