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NTSB Chairman Looks to Technology Initiatives to Increase Auto Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) used the recent Washington, D.C. Auto Show to tout automobile safety worthiness of the newest technology. When one considers that there are nearly 250 million vehicles registered in the United States and that driving these vehicles results in six million reported crashes and over 42,000 fatalities every year, it is apparent why safety improvements are needed.

The NTSB Chairman, Mark Rosenker, said the auto industry has maxed out the crashworthiness of vehicles and now is focusing on technology to make auto travel even safer. On a positive note, the number of fatalities has been dropping over the last several decades, and the fatality rate has been dropping as well. Rosenker attributes this improvement to seatbelts, airbags, crash-absorbing vehicle frames, child-restraint apparatuses, and more. Drunk-driving awareness has also contributed to the declining fatality rate, but Rosenker says there is more that can be done.

Rosenker went on to say the auto industry has "reached some practical limits in combating the physical forces involved in crashes. In recognition, the auto industry is moving beyond crash mitigation into an era where technology will help us prevent accidents."

Crash Avoidance Technologies

While there are many crash-avoidance techniques and systems in place, the chairman used his time at the Auto Show to specifically discuss the following technologies:

Vehicle-based Crash-Avoidance Systems – The most fatal type of accident that occurs is driving off the road, and researchers have now created systems that let a driver know when they have departed from their lane and warn them when they are going to fast around a curve. Other systems that have been created to help drivers avoid rear-end crashes, and systems like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking systems work to avoid all types of crashes.

Infrastructure Telematics – Thanks to initiative from the Department of Transportation (DOT), drivers are now provided with information about their vehicles and the road through the integrated use of telecommunications and informatics. In other words, vehicles are now being equipped with screens that utilize Smartphone technology and inform drivers of location-specific weather conditions, route-specific road closures, debris-removal work zones and more. This is especially beneficial in crash avoidance because adverse weather plays a role in 800,000 injuries and more than 7,000 fatalities every year.

Ultimately, the success of new technologies that help drivers avoid crashes will depend on the public's readiness to accept them. The National Highway Safety Administration is currently revising its New Car Assessment Program in an effort to jump on-board with the new crash-avoidance technology. The Assessment Program reviews and ranks automobiles on their crashworthiness using a 5-star system, but the Program did not previously take into account crash-avoidance technologies. Overall, these are great changes and initiatives in automobile safety that should excite drivers and encourage them to look for crash-avoidance technologies in the next vehicle they purchase.

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