Countries and investors need to step up the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) to keep roads safe for everyone, said three UN Special Envoys, leading a new AI for Road Safety initiative.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a call for action to reduce annual road deaths by half and ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation by 2030. According to the newly launched initiative, faster progress on AI is vital to make this happen, especially in low and middle-income countries, where the most lives are lost on the roads each year.
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.3 million people die every year as a result of traffic accidents. Between 20 and 50 million more suffer non-fatal injuries, with many acquiring a disability. AI can help in different ways, including better collection and analysis of crash data, enhancing road infrastructure, increasing the efficiency of post-crash response, and inspiring innovation in the regulatory frameworks.
This strategy requires equal data access and the ethical application of algorithms, both of which many countries now lack, making them unable to identify road safety solutions. AI for Road Safety brings together Special Envoys for Road Safety, Technology and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Announcing the initiative, the ITU Secretary-General, Mr. Houlin Zhao, said the disproportionate number of road deaths in developing countries “is yet another example of why the benefits of new technologies must reach everyone, everywhere”.
As the first partially self-driving cars come on the market, the future of automated driving is back in the limelight. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic is shifting mobility trends and increasing a preference for personally-owned cars.
Ms. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, UN Envoy on Technology, observed that “this initiative is a noteworthy effort to focus on practical, real-world technology issues that concretely affect peoples’ lives.”
Road Safety Envoy Mr. Jean Todt remarked, “there is an untapped opportunity to harness AI to close the digital and road safety divide around the world.” Mr. Todt, however, stated in March that there is still much work to be done to meet the target to halve the number of road deaths and injuries by 2030.
“Connected vehicles are far from reaching the communities that are most affected by road traffic crashes. The infrastructure in many countries could not support autonomous driving anytime soon. The cost of the technology is still very high,” Mr. Todt further added.
The new initiative aims to strengthen global AI efforts across both the public and private sectors to improve road safety for all road users, whether traveling by automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, foot or other means of transportation.