NTSB: Auto Technology Now Focused on Crash Prevention

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark V. Rosenker spoke yesterday at the 2008 Washington, D.C. Auto Show in which he said the auto industry has recognized the limitations of improving the crashworthiness of its vehicles and has now shifted its focus to developing innovative technologies to help prevent accidents entirely.

"For several decades, the number of fatalities has been dropping, and more importantly, the fatality rate has also been dropping," said Rosenker, attributing this to many things such as the use of seatbelts and child restraint systems; the development of airbags, antilock brakes, crash-absorbing vehicle frames; and campaigns to reduce drunk driving. However, as the decreases in fatalities and injury rates have leveled off in recent years, Rosenker said the industry has, "reached some practical limits in combating the physical forces involved in crashes. In recognition, the auto industry is moving beyond crash mitigation and into a new era where technology will help us prevent accidents."

Recently, the NTSB added the issue of preventing collisions using enhanced vehicle safety technology to its list of Most Wanted Safety Improvements. At the event Rosenker highlighted the following categories of crash avoidance technology:

  • Vehicle-based Crash Avoidance Systems - Rear-end crash warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and automatic braking systems are designed to prevent or at least mitigate this most common type of crash. Lane departure avoidance systems and curve-speed warning systems are being developed to target the most fatal type of events, run-off-the-road accidents.
  • Infrastructure Telematics - A DOT initiative that includes road-based systems to provide drivers with a sophisticated means for obtaining information about their vehicles and the road, such as location-specific weather conditions, route-specific road closures, and work zone status. Adverse weather is associated with 800,000 injuries and more than 7,000 fatalities a year.

Additionally, Rosenker noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is revising its New Car Assessment Program, which ranks automobiles on their crashworthiness using a 5-star rating system, because 95 percent of 2006 model year vehicles received 4 or 5 stars. The new system will reflect more modern crash avoidance technology.

The complete text of Rosenker's speech may be obtained at www.ntsb.gov/speeches/rosenker/mvr080122.html.

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