Most Wanted: Automatic Emergency Brakes

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There are several reasons why I like Volkswagen’s new “Dad, Stop!” commercial showcasing the emergency braking system in the 2016 Passat.  First, I drive a teenager to school. He jumps out of the car as quickly as possible when we arrive. Apparently there is nothing to be gained socially by being seen with your mother. So I can identify. Second, I was rear-ended a few weeks ago. The back of my car was damaged, and the car that hit mine had to be towed from the scene. All of its airbags deployed on impact.  I’m just glad no one was hurt. Automatic emergency braking (if it works the way it appears to in the commercial) would have prevented that accident.Third, my mother looked over at me in a similar way to the dad in the commercial as we were leaving my wedding rehearsal many years ago. When she looked back ahead, she saw brake lights. She swerved off the road to avoid hitting the car in front of us and ran over a fire hydrant. What a mess. Automatic emergency braking might have gotten us all to the rehearsal dinner on time.

The National Transportation Safety Board also thinks automatic emergency braking, which it calls “collision avoidance technology” is a laudable concept. In fact, promoting the availability of this technology made the NTSB’s 2016 Most Wanted List.  NTSB has issued such a list for more than 25 years. The chairman described the list in a recent press conference as a “roadmap from lessons learned to lives saved.”

So what does the NTSB have to say about collision avoidance technology? The NTSB points out that motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death and injury in the United States.  Nearly half of all two-vehicle crashes are rear-end crashes. A 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the primary reason for such crashes is the driver’s failure to pay attention to the traffic ahead.

NTSB says existing technology could prevent many rear-end crashes as well as crashes resulting from other poor driving maneuvers such as sudden lane changes or leaving the roadway.  NTSB cites the following types of in-vehicle collision avoidance technologies as among those that could mitigate or prevent crashes:  collision warning, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and advanced lighting technology.  According to NTSB:

These technologies help drivers by improving the view of the roadway, alerting drivers of impending danger ahead (a sudden stopped vehicle), or warning a driver if the driver performs an unusual maneuver that could increase the risk of a crash (such as a sudden change in lanes). Some technologies even initiate braking if drivers don’t or can’t.

The availability of such technology as optional equipment doesn’t satisfy NTSB, which believes that more automakers should offer collision avoidance technologies as standard features in their vehicles. What’s more, NTSB says that “consumers should not have to purchase a luxury option package to get the safety benefits of these technologies.”

What else is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List? Not all of the items on the Most Wanted List are related to highway safety (NTSB also investigates accidents involving aircraft, trains and ferries), but many are. Other recommendations include:

Ending Substance Abuse Impairment in Transportation. NTSB clearly is not afraid to aim high.  The title of this list item pretty much speaks for itself, and the dangers posed by impaired drivers are well-known. As to the how, NTSB recommends that states lower per se BAC levels for criminal charges of driving while impaired to 0.05 “or even lower,” and that more data be collected to demonstrate the relationship between the consumption of drugs and crash risks and the effectiveness of countermeasures to reduce drugged driving.

Disconnect from Deadly Distractions. NTSB notes that since 2003, it has found distraction due to portable electronic devices as a cause or contributing factor in “11 accidents that killed 50 people and injured 259.” And, it notes, “the NTSB does not even investigate the majority of highway crashes.” The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in 2014 more than 3,000 people died in vehicle accidents where the driver was distracted. Many of the victims were the drivers themselves. As with the previously listed most wanted item, the solution to the problem of distracted driving is far from simple.  NTSB says that a cultural change will be required for drivers to understand that “their safety depends on disconnecting from deadly distractions.” NTSB has reissued its call from 2012 for a driver ban for all portable electronic devices.

Strengthen Occupant Protection. I’m old enough to remember a time when airbags were considered an optional luxury and the only kind of seat belt found in the back seat was a lap belt. We’ve come a long way since then, but the NTSB believes there is still room for improvement. Along with the “increased use of existing restraint systems,” the NTSB recommends “better design and implementation of occupant protection systems that preserves survivable space and ensures ease of evacuation.”

Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents. Have you nodded off while driving? If so, you aren’t alone. NTSB cites a recent survey in which 43 percent of drivers admitted to nodding off while driving at least once in their lifetime. The solution? NTSB recommends a comprehensive approach focusing on “research, education and training, technologies, treatment of sleep disorders, hours-of-service regulations, and on- and off-duty scheduling policies and practices.”  In-vehicle technology can help here too. Also, there’s the obvious:  Drivers should get more sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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