Safety Shouldn’t Be a Luxury Feature

Accident scene in Paynes Praire, FLMotor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children and the second leading cause of accidental death for adults, claiming more than 30,000 lives annually. Now the good news: That toll is down from more than 50,000 deaths every year from 1966–1973, even though today there are far more drivers on the road.

This reduction in fatalities is in large part due to the single greatest lifesaving technology available to each of us in the event of a crash: the seat belt. Since 1975, seat belts have saved more than 317,645 lives.

Through advances in safety and technology, we’ve seen the development of air bags, a supplemental safety device, providing an additional level of protection for a driver or passenger correctly restrained using a seat belt. Since 1987, frontal air bags have saved nearly 40,000 lives.

Today, seat belts and air bags are available as standard safety equipment in all passenger vehicles.

Yet in 2012 alone, more than 1.7 million rear-end crashes killed more than 1,700 people and injured 500,000 on American roads. And more than 80% of those deaths and injuries might have been prevented or mitigated with another technology: collision avoidance systems.

This week, the NTSB released a Special Investigation Report, The Use of Forward Collision Avoidance Systems to Prevent and Mitigate Rear-End Crashes.

The lag in making collision avoidance systems standard equipment in all new vehicles is creating an unacceptable safety gap, leading to preventable deaths and injuries. Only 4 of 684 passenger vehicle models in 2014 included a complete forward collision avoidance system as a standard feature. The rest don’t offer it, or make you pay for it as an option. Often, it is packaged with luxury items.

You don’t have to buy leather seats to get the benefit of a safety belt. You don’t have to buy a moon-roof to get airbags.

You shouldn’t have to buy a luxury vehicle or a luxury option package to get a complete collision avoidance system.

Our report recommends that vehicle manufacturers include these systems on new vehicles as standard equipment. We also recommend that NHTSA develop ratings for collision avoidance systems, disclose the ratings for each vehicle on the window sticker, and include these ratings in its 5-star safety rating scale.

The NTSB issued its first recommendation on such technologies in 1995. But until now, progress has been limited. One problem is that even better technologies always seem to be on the horizon. But as Mark Twain put it, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

The time to improve the safety of our passenger vehicles and commercial fleets is now.

The full report includes the conclusions of the research and recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and to passenger vehicle, truck-tractor, motorcoach, and single-unit truck manufacturers.

We also issued a related Safety Alert,  Addressing Deadly Rear-End Crashes.

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