9 March 2012
The right speed for the road: Quartix pitches in
Vehicle tracking company Quartix has developed a new method of assessing safe road speeds for more accurate identification of riskier driving styles. Managing director Andy Walters explains to Sharon Clancy why he believes such a product is necessary, and how customers will benefit
Exactly how fast is it safe to travel on any given stretch of road? Remarkably, there seems to be little information out there on this subject. Speed limits tell you how fast it is legal to drive; but it appears that there is no formal, consolidated databaseof speed limits for the whole of the UK. In any case, legal limits don’t necessarily indicate speeds that are appropriate in the real world.
The team at telematics company Quartix felt that there was a need for something more, and realised that with their extensive history of tracking vehicles in real time, they were in a very good position to provide it.
The result is a new database that they consider a unique resource – a Safe Speed database. We talked to managing director Andy Walters to find out what it’s for, and how it works.
Why did Quartix start to explore road speed data and its correlation with safer driving style?
There is increasing interest from our vehicle tracking customers in driver monitoring systems; and data on over-speeding is critical for our insurance customers.
It has long been recognised that excessive speed is a major factor in road safety, but equally important is the relationship between the risk of an accident and the mean or median speed.
A driver may be exceeding the speed limit in a particular section of road, but if his speed is within the median percentile (in other words, his fellow motorists are travelling at round the same speed), the risk of an accident is reduced.
In developing our telematics box to capture the right data on driver behaviour we wanted a reliable and up-to-date method of recording and measuring safe driving speeds. The result is the Safe Speed database.
Why aren’t statutory road speeds acceptable?
The challenge in determining whether a particular speed is risky is identifying what is a safe speed is for a given section of road. Statutory road speed limits are partly the answer, but there are two major drawbacks. First, there is no official database of road speed limits in the UK. The responsibility rests with the eighty or so local authorities, and there is no requirement for the data to be provided to central Government or made publicly available. So speed limit data may not be up to date.
The second major problem is that the statutory speed limit is a very broad-brush measure. For example, the national speed limit of 60 mph can apply not only to a large open A-road but also to a narrow winding country lane, where even 30 mph could be considered excessive.
How does the Safe Speed database address the problem?
The Safe Speed database has been developed to improve analysis of driving style, whether by fleet operators or by insurers.
We use a mix of data sources and our own large database of vehicle movement data to assess the actual speeds on UK roads. We then compare those individual speeds with the distribution of all speeds on the same section of road. That allows us to identify excessively high speeds, derive distributions of driving speeds, and provide comparisons with the driving norm. So, for example if a driver is driving at 55 mph at a certain point, what percentile does that place him in when measured against the norm?
With Quartix telematics boxes installed in 30,000 vehicles returning over 5 million data points every day, we are capturing a lot of real-time data on actual speeds, and are able to build up a clear picture of the statistical distribution of speeds, or median speeds for each road sector. Also, our rate of data acquisition means we can quickly highlight changes in speed limits on given road sectors and identify the opening of new roads.
We have developed a series "location data packets" covering the whole of the UK road network, which continuously update the distribution of speeds travelled in each of these locations.
Locations are combined together if they have similar characteristics – for example, if they represent two adjoining sections of the same road heading in the same direction. Each location also takes into account the direction of travel, so that slower vehicle movements on adjoining roads do not affect the speed estimates for the main road.
This (together with other data) has provided us with an accurate measure of percentile speed that is a better indication of safe road speed than the actual legal speed limit.
How can the data be used for telematics-based risk assessment?
The speed distribution information is of great interest to both fleet and insurance customers, as we are able to rank the driver in terms of where he or she sits in the general driving population. For frequently-used roads this will eventually allow us to rank his or her speed in relation to other road users at the same time of day or in the same prevailing conditions. We think that this could be vital for insurers.
Many young drivers have accidents on rural roads where there are no other vehicles involved, and the monitoring of speed at, for example, the approach to bends could be a significant indicator of risk – despite the fact that the driver may well be driving within the speed limit.© Ivory Square Publications Ltd