We’ve Come a Long Way — and Have Farther to Go for Safety

By Debbie Hersman

Today, I visited the Washington Auto Show, which features more than 700 vehicles from 42 manufacturers. I visited with engineers, executives, and designers from Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Kia, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota to learn about the safety features on their vehicles. Of particular interest — especially after the NTSB’s recent call for a nationwide ban on motor vehicle driver use of portable electronic devices — was seeing how the manufacturers are integrating technology, including phones, entertainment, and navigation systems into automobiles.

I had the opportunity to meet with Sue Cischke, Group Vice President for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering at Ford Motor Company. Sue retires next week after a 36-year automotive career. I asked her what safety changes she had seen over the course of her career. Her response: It used to be that automobile safety improvements were passive and reactive; seat belts and air bags protected occupants after a crash. Now, she says, manufacturers are making active and aggressive safety improvements to prevent crashes. She added that even with all of the advances in technology over the last three decades, the seat belt is still the biggest lifesaver.

Over the last 35 years, the NTSB has issued many safety recommendations, NHTSA has implemented new standards and requirements, and manufacturers have improved vehicle safety. Today, we see technology assisting drivers to get more information and enhancing the safety performance of vehicles; examples include lane departure and forward collision warning systems, electronic stability control systems, and more, which I’ve written about on this blog and spoken about as well.

With more than 30,000 fatalities on our roadways each year, there is so much more that can be done to prevent that high death toll. It is exciting to see the list of safety enhancements grow every year at the auto show as new model-year vehicles are previewed. I look forward to seeing even more being done to improve safety in the future.

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