ICT in Road Safety and Rescue Operations in Nigeria(2)

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Notable Benchmarks

The following are case studies around the world that can be used to understand what other nations and unions are doing to improve road safety with the help of Information and Communications Technologies.

1. The European Union

Over 15 years ago, the EU set a target to reduce by half, the number of road fatalities by 2010. In setting the target, it believed that vehicle safety should be enhanced. Therefore, it consistently proposed the systematic use of ICTs and Driver Support Systems to design safer and more intelligent vehicles. This resulted in the revolutionary computerized cars currently produced by major European car manufacturers including BMW and Mercedes.

2. Scotland

The Scottish Road Safety Campaign promotes road safety education in schools and has developed a range of resources for use by teachers and pupils including, more recently, the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). The Scottish Executive lately commissioned research to explore the potentials of ICT as a means of teaching road safety, to compare the extent of its use with the more traditional road safety education formats, and to evaluate its potentials as a future road safety education source.

3. New Zealand

Application of safety management systems throughout New Zealand took a different turn when it set out to employ technology as one of the key aspects of the government’s Road Safety to 2010 strategy. It later became a fundamental means of achieving the vision of a greater degree of consistency in how the national road environment appears to road users.

4. Switzerland

The Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development predicts that the number of motor vehicle passengers in Switzerland will rise as much as 30 percent by 2030. In the light of the growing volume of traffic, increasing attention is being paid to road traffic safety in both the public and private sectors. For decades Siemens has been an innovation leader in this important field, developing road safety technology for numerous applications, ranging from pedestrian guide systems, tunnel transportation technologies to vehicle-to-vehicle inter-communication devices.

5. South Africa

South African has an advanced, full-featured eCall emergency service as an in-vehicle safety system. When a car senses a major impact, such as a collision or summersault, the eCall automatically calls the nearest emergency centre by communicating its exact location through location-based GPS support, and this attracts rescue attention within minutes. An emergency call can also be generated manually by vehicle occupants, if the condition is practicable after the impact. The fact that rescue services immediately get accurate location allows the personnel to reach the scene of the accident without much difficulty.

Challenges to Effective ICT Deployment in Road Safety and Rescue Operations

The reasons for the slow adoption of ICT to improve road safety are numerous. Each economy presents itself with peculiar reasons for this poor embrace of technology. The following are a few notable causes.

1. Technology misconception

A lot of misunderstanding exists in many technology concepts, leading to a perpetual stagnation in, or misapplication of, ICT initiatives. A very obvious illustration is the illusion of not drawing the distinction between computerization and automation. This smacks of ignorance. Computerization is the mere provision or location of individual computer systems often for independent or semi-dependent use. On the contrary, elements of automation include mass storage, centralized database, fast network access, wider coverage, remote access systems, scalability control, redundancy, access control, security policy etc. When our focus starts to shift from computerization to automation, then this challenge freezes. Only then can we begin to talk of automated road safety systems.

2. Bureaucratic bottlenecks

There is always the tendency of a project initiative lingering beyond completion projections due to the religious observance of officialdom. A lot of these administrative protocols constitute mere hindrances and delays. The entire African continent is a ready culprit, and so Nigeria is an obvious victim.

3. Inadequate funding for ICT projects

Oftentimes, insufficient budgetary allocations are made as a result of poor understanding and appreciation of the relevance of ICT. This has a huge retrogressive effect in a developing economy such as Nigeria.

4. Corruption

In developing nations, the unfortunate focus on selfish enrichment through dishonest means, bribery and fraudulent practices has negative effects on the original intent of ICT projects. These effects include abandoned projects, sub-standard execution, exposure to health hazards, loss of revenue, manpower depletion and depreciating economic backwardness.

5. Unstable Power Supply

The state of power supply in most developing nations does not encourage the full realization of ICT initiatives. Communications systems and related ICT infrastructure need uninterruptible and adequate power to function optimally. Anything short of this renders such facilities useless, or at best mere fanciful possessions.

6. Economic downturn

Fiscal recession is the bane of African’s low adoption of electronic technologies especially those that rely on huge investments in computer systems. Where economic downturns are persistent, no meaningful development can be sustained. This underscores the fact that the buoyancy of an economy has a direct proportionality in promoting her indulgence in wholesome projects such as ICT implementations. This is however not to be seen as an excuse to avoid the required government support for the implementation of very laudable technology support initiatives in the road safety sector.

7. Expensive bandwidth

As a result of the combination of several factors, internet bandwidths are most expensive in Africa leading to poor and ineffective network services from few oversubscribed pipes. This impacts negatively on the efficiency of web-based portals in facilitating prompt emergency responses and timely dissemination of life-saving road traffic data.

8. Mass apathy and resistance to change

Most of the common technologies that are in place in advanced economies are complete aliens to the developing countries. User acceptance is usually a major challenge as people naturally tend to stick to the old methods they are used to. Besides, people also get disenchanted if previous technology attempts had failed due to corruption, economic recession or over-dependence on government bureaucracy.

9. Vandalization of public infrastructure

With the gross underdevelopment of most African nations, public utilities and essential infrastructure such as roads safety technology installation become easy targets of attack due to mass action, ethnic militia, hooliganism and mischief making.

Benefits of the Application of ICTs in Road Safety

The obvious challenges of adoption of ICTs in road safety are not sufficient to disregard their immeasurable benefits captured as follows below.

1. Reduction in road mortality and casualties.

2. Improved post-accident response healthcare and support.

3. Creation of job helps to reduce the unemployment rate.

4. Economic growth

5. Promotion of gradual industrialization.

6. Improvement in foreign investors’ interest.

7. Reduction in travel time, pollution, traffic congestion and road accidents.

8. Assists drivers to avoid accidents.

9. They are used to generate vital statistics in road usage and electronic traffic management which can in turn be used to improve performance and to plan for future enhancements.

Stakeholders in Road Safety and Rescue Operations

In the Nigeria situation, some notable actors and stakeholders have been identified as vita in the design, development, mass awareness of, deployment or use of Integrated Intelligent Traffic Systems. These include the partial listing below:

1. Telecommunications Regulator: Government, through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is saddled with the responsibility of giving flexible but secure operational guidelines to network operators and Communications Service Providers. Such guidelines should be periodically monitored to determine compliance levels and make adjustments where necessary.

2. Telecommunications Operators: Their role is to adhere to regulatory stipulations by building nationally-accessible infrastructure that will be very secure, strong and resilient. Other value added ICT services supportive of road safety technologies shall rely upon their strong telecommunication base. Examples of services that rely on strong telecommunications infrastructure include the eCall system and vehicle locators (mobile trackers) that use wireless devices operating via cellular networks.

3. Equipment and Car manufacturers: Healthy and ethical marketing of durable intelligent mobile systems and the propagation of potential benefits.

4. Motorway managers: Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) owe a duty to enforce road worthiness compliance as well as continue to educate the masses on the enormous importance of using ICT in all phases of road commuting and management. For the sake of efficiency, this sensitization starts with an in-house orientation of its operational personnel.

5. Road transport authority: Statutory functions of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) are self-explanatory.

6. Insurance Companies: Underwriting firms are seen as leading the campaign in facilitating the compensation of accident-induced losses, and by extension promoting safe commuting and other road safety crusade.

7. Road safety organizations: Whether at the local or tertiary levels, relevant road safety clubs are important in helping to sanitize our roads, sensitize road users and rehabilitate road mishap victims.

8. NGO’s: By definition, Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) seek operating funds from government departments, foreign agencies, or global charities in order to provide community based basic welfare services such as assisting accident victims, maintaining adherence to road traffic regulations and supporting emergency medical services, without any intent of profit making.

9. User associations: National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) together with its affiliate associations are the closest to the grassroots and therefore have a greater burden of responsibility to promote the adoption of technology to support road transportation.

10. Government: It is the duty of the state to provide full support by enacting relevant legislations and by setting standards. Government is also responsible for effective enforcement through the relevant agencies available. Institution of research and development in designing new human-machine interactions is also the duty of government.

11. The media: Both print (newspaper houses) and electronic (TV, radio and web adverts) media practitioners have an inevitable stake to give positive mass awareness to safety campaign and adoption of ICT-based initiatives in this area.

12. Private sector: ICT is still a virgin for potential foreign and domestic investors.

Protecting Road Safety Electronic Data

It is not just enough amassing huge data for road safety management, every electronic data, including sensitive road safety data is useless if it is not well protected. This aspect of data protection, known as cyber security, is aimed at ensuring that electronic data is kept safe from corruption and undue modification and that access to it is suitably controlled. Several cyber security objectives to protect data exist but the three listed below are the most important of all. These are generally used as standard benchmark to qualify the level of electronic data security and information assurance. Others information protective measures, safeguards and mechanisms derive from them.

1. Data Integrity:

This is the protection of information from unauthorized or inadvertent modification. It is an assurance that the information cannot be altered either in storage or in transit between sender and intended receiver without the alteration being detected and reversed. Road safety data integrity should aim at addressing the unauthorized alteration of all relevant electronic data. To assure data integrity, concerned data custodians must have the ability to detect data manipulation attempts by unauthorized parties through insertion, deletion, substitution or swapping.

2. Data Confidentiality:

This is the limiting of access to information to authorized persons only, such that the information cannot be understood by anyone for whom they were unintended. Data confidentiality in the management of road safety electronic data is used to keep the content of information from all but those authorized to have, see, or use them. Also called secrecy or privacy, there are numerous approaches to providing confidentiality, ranging from physical protection to mathematical algorithms which render data unintelligible (this is also called data encryption: the process of making information unreadable and incomprehensible to unauthorized persons).

3. Data Availability:

Road safety electronic data/resources should be readily available to those who need them, and when they need them. The information should be easily accessible without hindrance by all parties that have the authority to view, edit, transfer, or otherwise use it to enhance road safety operations and ensure safety of lives and properties. Telecoms service providers have a responsibility to ensure that data is easily reached without access difficulties, network hiccups and unwarranted delays.

Areas of Future ICT Research In Nigeria’s Road Safety Technology Advancement

1. Application of Computer Forensics in accident investigations: Computer forensic is the study of the body of knowledge of the collation, analysis and interpretation of computer and digital evidence which can be used to unravel a misuse or abuse of a computer information systems; and can be tendered as a legal evidence in a cyber crime litigation.

Computer Forensics holds a great potential for road safety law, road safety insurance and road safety education.

2. Biometric Authentication Systems: Biometric recognition is an automatic recognition and verification of an entity based on “who he is or what he does” as opposed to “what he knows” (eg PIN or password) or “what he has” (eg ID card). This is applied to road safety rescue operations to verify accident victims’ identity for the sake of administering appropriate medical attention or of establishing personal and family contacts.  Biometric Authentication Systems are also going to be the bedrock of future driver’s license verification, vehicle access authentication through the recognition of unique biological, physiological and behavioural traits including thumb prints, palm geometry, voice pattern, facial contour, etc.

3. Geographic Information Systems (GIS): GIS use data from communication satellites to establish the true locations of spatial objects for the sake of co-ordination and rescue operations including during periods of road crashes and other disasters. The use of GIS in road safety analysis has increased rapidly in recent years. This has proved to be effective in combination with other in-vehicle navigation systems.

At the heart of GIS is the Global Positioning System. The GPS is a system comprising of a set of communication satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit round the earth in such a way that they provide a complete real-time coverage of the entire earth’s surface. It is a worldwide, satellite-based, radio navigation system that was developed by the US Department of Defense to pinpoint and precisely identify the exact location anywhere on Earth. In addition to military purposes, it is widely used in marine, aviation, terrestrial navigation, modern road traffic management and location based services. GPS receivers are hand-held satellite receivers that interpret GPS data for identifying locations on maps, estimating longitude, latitude, altitude and depth with reference to data from orbital satellite. GPS receivers can determine location within 10 to 100 meters, depending on the accuracy of the equipment. Today, GPS receivers are widely available in almost everything from cars to wrist watches.

Conclusion and Recommendations

ICTs seek to find ways of dealing with each of the factors that lead to road accidents including, but not limited to: alcohol, novice drivers, older drivers, careless drivers, bad roads, reckless driving, faulty vehicles, poor visibility, fatigue and drug influence.

While traditional Road Safety Performance Indicators (RSPIs) can be examined to improve our understanding of the causes of accidents, however the application of ICT streamlines the effective management, monitoring and documentation of all road safety operations including highway death traps, drivers’ ignorance and emergency rescue services.

Safety professionals should understand eSafety as vehicle-based intelligent safety systems capable of using computerized devices and programs to improve road safety in terms of reducing exposure to risk, crash avoidance, injury reduction and automatic post-crash notification of collision.

Road safety trends around the world are tilting towards fewer fatalities, and a call is hereby made to all the stakeholders to rise above board to work towards the reduction of road fatalities and casualties through the application of ICTs in car systems design, traffic management and road transport data dissemination.

ICT provides a lot of tools to assist in managing road safety, but general acceptability and awareness is the big question. In developing economies like Nigeria, supportive government legislation and increased media awareness are vital in reducing ignorance and user apathy.

Government and notable authorities are also encouraged to show a higher degree of interest in acquisition of ICTs, and make conscious efforts towards their operational application in road safety if Nigeria’s vision 20-2020 is to be realized.