Posted on March 1st, 2023

With Great Opportunity Comes Great Responsibility

Vehicle technology has the potential to achieve great safety benefits on our roadways. With over 46,000 people estimated to have lost their lives to traffic violence in 2021, communities certainly need all the help they can get. However, consumers should be wary of technology that offers more flash than substance in their vehicles.

Combined with a Safe System approach and other proven countermeasures, lifesaving technologies will help us realize our national goal of zero traffic deaths. Existing technologies that comprise Advanced Driver Assistance systems (ADAS) alone could save up to 10,000 lives each year. Other technologies that we have available but are not widely distributed – like impaired driving detection – could cut fatalities by 25%. We also have great opportunities for safety through the adoption and incorporation of new technology into vehicle fleets for both personal and professional use. Roadway users should be encouraged by many of the advancements we’ve made and the interest from NHTSA to encourage testing, adoption and standardization of these features.

It is important to realize, however, that many new vehicle technologies not only do not contribute to safer roads but can actually create increased danger. One of these is the increased size and use of the infotainment screens found in today’s vehicles. It may seem like a small risk to take a second to change your playlist, update your route or make a phone call, but each of these activities requires the driver to take their eyes off the road and become distracted from the task at hand. While this might seem safer than using a cell phone or other mobile device not connected to the car, even a few seconds can have a devastating impact: distraction contributes to over 3,000 lives lost each year.

Another troubling advancement are the “gesture controls” that not only encourage drivers to shift their view from the road and their surroundings, but to move their hands off the steering wheel, as well. While infotainment systems might seem innocuous, how they are used and displayed can affect a driver’s ability to react quickly and effectively to changes in their surroundings.

Increased technology in vehicles can be a double-edged sword. Fortunately, when consumers are armed with knowledge and a responsibility to create safer streets, they can help decide how the sword is wielded. Even if available technologies might lead to distractions, drivers can choose how and when to deploy them. They can also use their purchasing power to demonstrate which features are a priority to them. In turn, vehicle manufacturers and regulators should test and rate new features based on how they contribute to the safety of all roadway users, occupants and non-occupants alike. It will take all of us to leverage the technology in vehicles to improve the safety on our roads.