Keeping transport safe and secure in a changing world

Public trust in transport is largely a function of its safety record. But rapid technological change requires governments to become more agile in evaluating and balancing benefits and potential costs of innovation.

José Viegas
International Transport Forum


Modern transport systems are so much part of our everyday lives that we tend to not waste much thought about the complexity that lies behind making them work safely and securely. Yet the transport sector has always understood that keeping passengers and freight within the levels of risk that are acceptable in each society is one of the fundaments
of its business, and it has generally been able to adapt to the many intervening changes of demand, of supply technologies and even of societal acceptance of risk overall.
These are not laurels to rest on, however. The safety and security of passengers must be won again and again every single day, and it can be easily lost. Moreover, the context in which this daily struggle takes place is changing and the challenges are increasing.
First, there is the success of transport itself. The rapid growth of demand for mobility adds to the challenge of maintaining adequate safety and security standards everywhere. This starts with the availability of well-trained personnel. Capable men and women need to be attracted and trained to become pilots, drivers, loaders or logistics experts,
and then they also need to be retained.
There is also the availability of adequate transport infrastructure as transport volumes grow. Just look at emerging economies, where high-powered car models now share basic two-lane roads with rickshaws, pedestrians and in some cases animals, often with rules that are not precisely defined or not known by many. Resilience is also an important issue, with ever more frequent and more powerful natural disasters that threaten to interrupt transport routes, the bloodlines of the global economy.
Second, there are new technologies. The digital revolution in transport offers huge opportunities to improve comfort, safety and security. Where human error is at the root of incidents, smart algorithms can provide more safety through alerts or even corrective actions. But we also need to manage potential risks. Just as easily as an unmanned aerial vehicle can deliver a book, it could carry a bomb.
On a more prosaic level, we see already that the omnipresence of digital tools has fostered a culture of multitasking and distractedness that is often incompatible with safety and security. Recently, a train dispatcher was arrested in Germany after he confessed to playing a video game on his smartphone on duty while two trains under his watch collided, killing 11 people. In the US, drivers in their 20s make up 23 percent of drivers in all fatal crashes, but 38 percent of dis¬tracted
drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes.
The transition to more and more automated processes holds particular challenges, such as safely handling man-machine interaction in critical situations – think of managing handover in highly automated driving, for instance. Who overrides whom when, and what time is required for that?

Dr. Uwe H. Wehrstedt
Sunday March 26th, 2017

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