There seem to have been a number of reports about big traffic incidents in the past few weeks. The biggest was the recent crash on the M5 which killed seven people. In addition to the deaths, a further 51 people were injured and the road was closed for 48 hours. Last weekend the M40 closed for 10 hours after a serious accident and then the M20 had to close twice in 12 hours due to two separate accidents (though only one of those involved vehicles, six cars though). With the onset of winter the number of accidents is only set to increase.
I keep wondering whether these accidents were avoidable. People are fallible, no two ways about it, we make mistakes and most accidents are caused by errors in judgement, not mechanical failure (so I'm guessing, I haven't got any specific stats on that). So are there ways to cut down on accidents and (especially) fatalities using technology? Absolutely.
Braking assist seems to be a coming force, with Ford's new Focus advertising it as standard and as far back as 2008 Volvo were putting their CitySafety system into cars (not without problems it has to be said). This is designed to react quicker than the driver to slam on the brakes if there's a stationary obstacle in front of them. Certainly useful if you're approaching a pile-up too fast in poor visibility, but it could probably be extended.
Another idea is vehicle communication, whereby vehicles ahead could transmit information about road conditions and speed so a warning could sound/appear if you're approaching slow or stationary traffic. You could argue we already have a system for that -- those signs that flash up a speed limit -- but most people ignore them, not least because they never seem to be right. Either you're sat in a queue of traffic before you see one or you're being told to do 50 when the road's clear. Which is why I'd be loath to say we rely on a system run by a government agency and instead use information transmitted by vehicles in some sort of car-wide social network.
It would also be necessary to include something which can enforce a speed limit on a driver as well, to limit them in an effort to stop the idiots who don't grasp you can't do 90 in the snow without risking problems.
With more and more cars on the roads and a proposal to increase the speed limit, technology holds to key to help out the weakest link of any car: the driver. Leaving this to car manufacturers isn't the answer though, they'll only introduce them if they think it'll help sell cars (understandably so), which means the government needs to step in and force this issue.