Helping Consumers Understand Collision Avoidance Technologies

By Member Earl F. Weener, PhD

Panelists at , Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

On October 27, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Safety Council (NSC) hosted an expert panel discussion, Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

NTSB and NSC came together to educate drivers about the benefits and capabilities of currently available collision avoidance technologies (or “advanced driver assistance systems”), which can prevent many common types of crashes. This issue appeared on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List in 2016 and remains on the 2017–2018 list because increasing the implementation of these technologies is a priority for us.

Crash avoidance technologies have improved and become widely available, and automakers have worked hard to get that message to potential buyers. As a result, consumers have been increasingly bombarded with a variety of safety technology-focused marketing campaigns. Our joint panel looked at ways to help consumers understand the functionality, benefits, and limitations of these technologies.

The full-day event featured presentations from policymakers, auto manufacturers, researchers, media and trade press writers/reviewers, industry associations, and safety advocates. The discussions covered technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—to name a few—and what they mean for safety. We also focused on how we could all work together to better promote these technologies to consumers. By the end of the day, we could all agree that these technologies save lives, and more must be done to incorporate them into every vehicle and educate consumers about them.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes increased by 7.2 percent in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this is the highest increase in 50 years. This is a move in the wrong direction and is potentially the beginning of a very troubling trend. We believe that crash avoidance technologies could have prevented many of these deaths and that advanced driver assistance systems can play a significant role in saving lives.

Over the past 20 years, we have advocated for the use of driver assistance safety technologies and have issued 14 recommendations on collision avoidance technologies to date. We believe that, like seatbelts before them, these next-generation technologies will move vehicle safety forward, helping safeguard drivers and passengers.

When considering these safety-improving systems in your vehicle, it’s important to remember that they do have limitations. In other words, they are driver assisting, not driver replacement, systems. We have not yet reached a stage of autonomous—or driverless—vehicles, so drivers are, and must remain, in full control. These technologies are designed to work with a driver who is sober, well-rested, and fully engaged with his or her vehicle.

Reaching Zero Crashes was part of our effort to inform the public of the important aspects of collision avoidance technology. By bringing together interested safety advocates, we moved the dialogue forward and discovered new ways of promoting the technology.

I was impressed by the variety of related consumer education campaigns underway. For example, the AARP announced it would expand its Smart DriverTEK, a new and innovative vehicle technology education program specifically for seniors, developed jointly with The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. With the goal of encouraging adoption, the program uses in-classroom workshops and pop-up events to educate drivers on current and evolving vehicle technologies and how to use them.

In 2015, the NTSB urged NHTSA to expand its New Car Assessment Program 5-star rating system to include a scale that rates the performance of forward collision avoidance systems. At our event, I heard how NHTSA will, in fact, review some of these safety technologies as part of its 5-star safety rating program. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who also participated in the event, this week announced it would also be reviewing and rating vehicles for a TOP Safety Pick+ if they had good headlight systems and autobraking, among other factors. These are all promising developments for consumers.

Representatives of the media and trade press from such publications as Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and US News and World Report discussed how seriously they take their jobs to provide consumers critical information about these technologies before buyers arrive at the dealership. Representatives from these outlets were testing, reviewing, and writing features for new buyers—and planned to do more in 2017.

Advocacy groups, academia, industry, media, the NSC, and the NTSB can—and must—take the message to consumers and lawmakers about how these technologies work and why they are beneficial. At our event, the NSC discussed its “My Car Does What” education program, a terrific online tool designed for all age groups that provides an overview of available technologies and how they work. Dealer groups, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, have committed to using these tools to educate dealers and consumers as they sell or buy vehicles with these features. Dealers will play a significant role in promoting these technologies.

Vehicle safety technology has come a long way over the past few decades, and these advances provide an opportunity to significantly reduce the unacceptable number of injury and fatality crashes each year.

If you were not able to join us for the event, I encourage you to watch it via our recorded webcast to learn more about these technologies. You can also find the complete event transcript on our webpage.

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