Posted on November 22nd, 2016

One Step at a Time

Some of the top minds in transportation gathered in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 16 to talk about one of the most important developments in auto safety history: Automated vehicles, and the technologies leading up to them.

Transportation leaders including Mark Rosekind, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Deborah Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council (which is a co-partner behind the MyCarDoesWhat campaign) discussed what role government should play when it comes to automated vehicle technology during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee hearing titled “The Automated and Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution: What Is the Role of Government?”

In her opening remarks, Hersman pointed out that “operating a motor vehicle remains one of the deadliest things we do on a daily basis.” Every day we lose approximately 100 people in motor vehicles crashes, and every year more than 4 million people are injured. In the first six months of 2016 alone, an estimated 19,100 people have been killed on our roads and 2.2 million seriously injured.

NHTSA estimates that 94 percent of all fatal crashes have an element of human error. Therefore, if we are to eliminate or reduce the number of fatalities on our roadways, advances in vehicle technologies that can intervene to avoid a crash must be part of the solution.

While automated vehicles are all the buzz, people need to realize that technologies that are already available are the building blocks for fully self-driving vehicles. Greater consumer acceptance of the dozens of safety technologies that are available today would lead to more rapid adoption of them, saving lives and preventing injuries.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), if four current technologies – forward collision warning/mitigation, lane departure warning/prevention, side view assist/blind spot warning, and adaptive headlights — were deployed in all passenger vehicles, they could prevent or mitigate as many as 1.86 million crashes and save more than 10,000 lives per year. However, front crash prevention (commonly referred to as automatic emergency braking) – which was an option in about half new 2015 model year cars – was in only 8 percent of registered cars in 2015.

Now that these technologies are starting to go mainstream, we need to educate the U.S. public about these life-saving technologies. That’s precisely why we launched MyCarDoesWhat. This education campaign informs drivers about how safety technologies work, how to best interact with them, and how to identify situations when the technology may not perform optimally and should not be relied upon. Because of the need for continued human involvement in the operation of many of these features, the campaign’s tagline is “You are your car’s best safety feature.” Drivers cannot effectively use these life-saving technologies if they do not understand both their functions and limitations.

So while self-driving vehicles may represent the most promising life-saving innovation in transportation in our lifetime, getting to zero deaths will not happen overnight. We need to carefully navigate the stepping stones to higher levels of automation one at a time. This means using the technology available in our vehicles today to improve safety on the roadways while being mindful of its limitations.

Watch the full testimony.