Just how safe are New York City taxicabs? The answer is either “very” or “not too,” depending on how you look at the statistics. Either way, the city is determined to lower the number of accidents taxis are involved in – and is turning to Israeli road safety tech firm Mobileye to accomplish that.
Last week, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) Commissioner, Meera Joshi, along with other officials, announced the launch of the TLC’s Vehicle Safety Technology (VST) Pilot Program. Central to that program is the installation of Mobileye systems in cabs, with drivers getting alerts if they get too close to vehicles in front of them, veer out of their lane without signaling, tailgate, etc.
Mobileye is one of Israel’s greatest tech success stories. The technology, developed at Hebrew University by Professor Amnon Shashua based on machine vision, has gone on to become one of the world’s most important road safety systems. Mobileye is now standard on models from nearly all car makers in the US, Japan, and Europe, and the company last year produced Israel’s largest IPO ever.
According to analysts, the $890 million raised by Mobileeye in its August IPO gave the company a valuation of over $7.5 billion. By the end of 2016, the company says, its advanced system will be available in 237 car models from 20 OEMs. Among the companies Mobileye already has a deal with are BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Peugot, Volvo, Tesla, and truck manufacturers MAN SE, Scania, and IVECO.
Mobileye uses a monocular camera, which magnifies images, together with sophisticated software that calibrates how much time a driver needs to brake in order to avoid colliding with the vehicle ahead. If the driver gets too close, an alarm goes off, and in some vehicles, the software is connected to the braking system so that if the driver fails to brake in time, the system does it for him.
The Mobileye Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) also alerts drivers when they come too close to pedestrians and when they veer out of their lane, and new versions of the system can also detect cyclists, debris on the road, curbs, barriers and constructions zones, and can also detect traffic lights and can even read signs.
It’s that kind of caution the TLC wants to encourage in its drivers. According to Schaller Consulting, which keeps an eye on transportation issues in New York and elsewhere, taxis are involved about in 10% of road accidents and crashes in New York City – lower than the rate for other groups studied (passenger cars, fleet vehicles, etc.). However, passengers involved in cab accidents tended to have worse injuries than passengers or drivers of other vehicles, according to statistics the group was able to gather for the last year the data was studied – 2004.
Whatever the number, the city has taken it upon itself to enhance road safety among all groups – pedestrians, car owners, taxi, bus, and truck drivers, and anyone else who walks down the street to get from one place to another. VST is part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan to cut down accidents and injuries to as low a number as possible.
Besides Mobileye systems, which will ensure proper driving behavior in the front of the vehicle, taxis will also deploy a rear camera, furnished by US firm IonFleets. Both camera systems will be hooked up to “black boxes,” which will record everything about a ride, including alarms set off by the Mobileye and IonFleet camera systems, as well as vehicle dynamics such as speed, acceleration, braking, and abrupt turns.
Currently, the program is voluntary, with drivers who are judged less than ideal receiving safety counseling instead of fines.
The first ten cabs were outfitted with the systems last week, and plans are to add more gradually over the next few months. If the program proves to be a success, it may be widely implemented, the TLC said.
“The VST Pilot Program will give us a bird’s eye view of what is actually happening on the road and the mere presence of a black box will keep drivers mindful of the responsibility they have behind the wheel,” said Commissioner Joshi. “The data collected by this piloted technology will help the TLC and our industries reinforce good driving practices that will ultimately keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists as safe as possible.”