A World Without Traffic Accidents
April 6, 2017
Dr. Hartmut Wöhler, an executive vice president at German tire maker Continental, talks to the Voice’s Witold Żygulski.
What is the general idea behind your Vision Zero project?
Twenty years ago we started to develop our Continental brands with the emotional setup on football and we were very successful with this. All our competitors, all companies are investing in football. We have taken the decision that it will no longer be our strategic platform. We are one of the biggest automotive suppliers in the world and our competitive edge is now to combine our competencies: the tires, the braking systems and all electronic assistant systems which are all contributions to accident-avoiding driving. And this is what we call Vision Zero—a long-term approach that leads to a future world with fewer and fewer traffic accidents. On the one hand, it is the newest combination of different competencies; on the other, it is about consistent development of new braking technologies. Vision Zero should lead us to avoid fatalities and reduce injuries. With this approach we can again be unique with this combination of competencies. We have to develop the technologies, integrate them and install the new combined systems in as many cars as possible, and this will take some time to have concrete results. Governments create the statistics on accidents; our task is to offer drivers the technologies for safe driving.
Your company says its Vision Zero approach is based on four pillars: road infrastructure, tires, braking systems, and educating the driver. Can you tell us something more about each of these pillars?
The tire is the only system of the car that has direct contact with the road. So we have to develop the best tires. The tires in connection with sensors and electronics will be intelligent, the driver will benefit from all the necessary information during the trip. So, again, it is about technology competence. But on the other hand, the driver has to learn it. For example, if you drive a self-driving car, one without a steering wheel, you don’t have the right reflexes and all your driving experience becomes worthless. You have to learn everything from the beginning.
Can you tell us more about the new technologies that your company is developing?
The new thing is that they will be combined. We are working on new tires, new brakes and new safety systems all at the same time. We will be able to collect information from the tires and brakes and analyze the data to create beneficial information out of it. It will take time and will not be done immediately, but our first tests of these systems are now being done with trucks. This combination is a challenging task, especially bearing in mind that there are a lot different car manufacturers. The systems are different in Mercedes, Chevrolet or Renault, so it may take years to combine them.
The other important point is that, say, emergency braking is not something you use every day. To test it on the real road you should install your systems in as many cars as possible, so the drivers will be able to tell you how it worked when, for example, a kid suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. So testing systems in our facilities is one thing, but a real decline of fatalities and injuries depends on the equipment and all of the accident-avoiding systems.
Finally, there are a lot of things coming up. Everyone is working on developing new technologies for the automotive industry; but no one knows what will see the light of day, what systems we will use in the near future. We will have to decide, along with car manufacturers, which new technologies will actually be implemented. Personally, I think that the idea that we are developing in the Vision Zero approach will pay off in the long term.
Polish drivers are often seen as reckless and aggressive. What’s even more dangerous, sometimes they drive under the influence of alcohol. How do you plan to educate them?
In my opinion, they are no different than British, Spanish or Italian drivers. They all behave in the same way. So what we want to do is to motivate them to reduce the number of accidents and to show them the best ways of safe driving.
Instead of criticizing your drivers, you should look at the truly enormous progress that Poland has achieved in the last two decades concerning the quality of roads. That’s actually the reason why we have to develop tires for different road conditions. The tires have to be safe, comfortable and robust.