Getting to Know Crash Avoidance Technologies

By Earl Weener, PhD

Member Weener views occupant crash testing.
Member Weener reviewing occupant crash testing technologies.

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List features the top ten safety improvement areas the Board emphasizes each year. Board Members select two or three Most Wanted List items on which to focus. This year, I chose to promote the availability of collision avoidance technologies in highway vehicles because existing and emerging crash avoidance technologies can prevent crashes, reduce injuries, and save lives. In fact, two separate NTSB studies on rear-end collisions, one in 2001 and one in 2015, make this point clear.

I met recently with automakers and vehicle safety researchers in Michigan, where I had the opportunity to experience several different safety technologies. In one vehicle, I felt the force of its autonomous emergency braking system as the car stopped to avoid a vehicle directly in our path. Another car warned me when I drifted out of the marked lane and even provided steering assist to get me back between the lines. Crash avoidance technologies such as autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring are well known to the NTSB, but experiencing the effectiveness of these safety features in action was enlightening.

I also toured safety research facilities where automotive professionals test vehicles and their components to improve occupant protection and crash avoidance technologies. Some of these technologies safeguard pedestrians by alerting the driver to a person immediately in front of or behind the vehicle; some actually stop the vehicle in time to avoid a potentially deadly impact. Pedestrian safety was examined in a recent NTSB forum and remains a serious focus for NTSB.

As an engineer, I respect the dedication of the engineers and scientists developing and improving cutting edge technologies that meet and even exceed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. I commend automakers who commit substantial resources to the innovation of these vital technologies.

I am impressed by the safety first mindset of the companies I visited. Automakers are adopting a safety-based mode of operation, focusing on organization-wide responsibility for the safety of their products. These companies are even working cooperatively on vehicle-to-vehicle communication capabilities. As one executive told me, automakers “don’t compete on safety” and believe that other aspects of their products should distinguish them from the crowd. I was glad to see that, in 2017, even more vehicles will include some safety technologies as standard equipment. This is good news, especially considering NTSB’s position that crash avoidance technologies should be standard equipment in every model of every automaker.

Existing crash avoidance technologies can reduce the unacceptable losses on our roads.

As these technologies become part of the transportation system, I have a few words of encouragement:

  • Traffic safety organizations: help spread the word about the importance of crash avoidance technologies.
  • Automobile manufacturers: inform dealers and their staff about vehicle safety features.
  • Automobile dealers: educate consumers about the benefits and proper use of these important safety technologies.
  • Consumers: learn about the technologies and consider test driving a vehicle equipped with some of the latest safety features.
  • Parents and guardians: consider the importance of these technologies for our newest and youngest drivers.

The most important safety feature in any vehicle is a vigilant, sober, and well-rested driver who is fully focused on driving. A single lapse in judgment, moment of distraction, or poor choice can have lifelong consequences. Fortunately, more vehicles offer features designed to step in to protect us.

As more consumers demand crash avoidance technologies, embrace their use and provide feedback to automakers, these lifesaving technologies will continue to improve. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the growing availability and enthusiastic adoption of these technologies by safety-conscious drivers will save lives.

Earl F. Weener is an NTSB Board Member

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