Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle Crash Shakes Industry

Last week’s accident between a testing autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian has shaken the automotive industry. Uber, the ride sharing company and their fleet of autonomous vehicles manufactured by Volvo, have all but stopped any further autonomous vehicle testing until further notice because of the crash. The crash involved a Volvo XC90 autonomous vehicle that was occupied by a human backup driver, and a pedestrian. While details on the accident have not been released, preliminary analysis of the available evidence shows that the pedestrian likely entered the oncoming path of the XC90 without sufficient time for the vehicle’s driving systems to properly avoid hitting the pedestrian. In addition, the backup driver did not have sufficient time to react to the situation or to avoid intervening with the driverless system before the vehicle collided with the pedestrian. This was thought to have been the first ever fatal accident involving an autonomous vehicle since testing had begun, including tests undertaken by other companies, such as Google. Right after Uber suspended their autonomous vehicle testing, Toyota announced that they would also be suspending all autonomous vehicle testing until further notice. In a statement provided by Toyota, the company informed the industry that they feel that the fatality has caused an emotional response from the backup test drivers and has shaken the confidence that autonomous vehicles can effectively prevent accidents in everyday scenarios. A similar response has reverberated throughout the automotive industry. Most companies are concerned about the backlash caused by the accident and how the thought of autonomous vehicles as being completely safe may now be gone. Autonomous vehicle testing relies on sensors placed around the vehicle that “see” the environment around the vehicle in an attempt to perform the act of driving at the level of a human, or even better. The system of sensors used by autonomous vehicles is dependent on being able to correctly identify the surroundings in the event of an emergency, and respond appropriately by navigating the autonomous vehicle away from the emergency. It may be difficult for the public to regain trust in such systems after they have been shown to be fallible. -taken from www.sae.org

New Device to Stop Semi Underride

The topic of vehicle underride has been discussed in many forums lately. Perhaps the most severe underride impact occurs between small passenger cars and large semi tractor trailers. Such an impact between small and large vehicles produces damage that is lethal to the occupants of the smaller vehicle in many cases. A group of underride researchers is testing a new product designed to reduce passenger vehicle damage in underride impacts with large trailers. The product is designed to resist underride impacts to the sides of the trailer, in the case of an accident where a passenger vehicle t-bones the trailer. The product is called Angel Wing and is produced by Airflow Deflector Inc. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has performed impact tests against the Angel Wing  product at 35 mph and 40 mph impact speeds. The results of the test show that the Angel Wing effectively reduces the amount of underride to smaller vehicles, reducing the risk of decapitation type injuries to the vehicles occupants. Angel Wings are effectively large structural pieces that take up the space underneath a trailer’s main deck, behind the rear dual axles of the tractor and in front of the dual axles of the trailer. The concept of adding material in the area between the axles of the semi is not a new one, as many current trailers have large panels taking up this space currently. The difference between these large panels and Angel Wings is that Angel Wings are structural. The large panels in this area of many trailers currently is simply a panel to help reduce air turbulence under the semi in an attempt to increase fuel economy. Angel Wings may accomplish an increase in fuel economy as well as provide resistance to underride during impacts. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has been investigating many methods to reduce underride between passenger vehicles and semis and will be continuing testing of these devices designed to reduce injury during accidents.   Taken from www.iihs.org

Rear Passengers Less Likely To Wear Seat Belts

A new study carried out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has shed new light on the topic of seat belts and rear passengers. The study determined that the mindset of adult passengers in motor vehicles is that the rear seats are automatically safer than the front seats and that, in many cases, seatbelts are optional when riding as a passenger in the rear of a vehicle. The study showed that approximately 28 percent of individuals who participated did not wear their seat belts while in the back seats of a vehicle. 91 percent of individuals who participated claimed that they would wear seatbelts while in the front seat, however. Interestingly, of those who admitted not always using safety belts while in the back seat of a vehicle, approximately 4 out of 5 individuals stated that they would not use seat belts at all while on short trips, such as during ride-shares, taxis, or Uber. The mindset that the rear seat is automatically safer than the front seat may have come from the early advent of seat belts in vehicles during the 1960’s and 1970’s. During this time, the rear seat was considered safer than the front seats because none of the seats were required to have seat belts. Without any seat belts, the rear seat is technically safer because the occupant is less likely to impact the hard dashboard in the event of an impact. However, with safety belts now required by federal law, the rear seat is basically just as dangerous as the front seat during a car accident. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study identified that the age group of adults who were the least likely to wear seat belts while in the rear of a vehicle was those individuals 35 to 54 years of age. Only 60 percent of these individuals reported to wear seatbelts in the rear of a vehicle, compared to 76 percent 55 years old or older, and 73 percent of those aged 18 to 34 years. –from IIHS

Single Vehicle Accidents Are Dangerous

A recent study carried out by AAA Mid-Atlantic found that the majority of automobile crashes that result in a fatality are actually single-vehicle accidents. In other words, crashes caused by the driver are the most lethal type of crash, as opposed to multi-vehicle accidents which are typically considered more dangerous in the public’s view. Common crashes involving two or more vehicles are viewed as typically much more dangerous and common than crashes involving only one vehicle. The thought of being impacted by another vehicle in which the driver has no control over, such as being hit by a car running a red light, is typically much more daunting than a crash in which the vehicle’s own driver is at fault.  Approximately 96 percent of motorists fear the thought of being hit by another vehicle, whereas single vehicle accidents are fatal for more than half of all accidents. Significant data points were taken from statewide accident data in 2015 in the states of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Virginia data shows that approximately 474 of 753 traffic fatalities were the result of single vehicle accidents. In Maryland, approximately 275 out of 513, or 54% of fatal accidents were caused by single vehicles. Washington DC had the highest percentage at approximately 74%. Nationwide averages show that single vehicle fatalities take up approximately 55% of fatal crashes.   Single vehicle accidents manifest themselves in different ways. For example, a vehicle rollover is considered a single vehicle accident. Vehicle rollovers are typically extremely dangerous because the occupants can be hit multiple times from multiple directions during the accidnent, causing severe injury at the minimum. Leaving the roadway is also considered a single vehicle crash, or colliding with a fixed object such as a telephone pole or concrete barrier. However, crashes that involve hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist are also considered single-vehicle accidents. These accidents are also often fatal due to the significant injuries that can occur during impact. taken from www.wtop.com

Higher Speed Limits Equal More Crashes

Increasing speed limits on highways and urban roadways has had an effect on the number of traffic-related fatalities in recent years. New studies carried out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have shown that many of the incremental speed limit increases have increased the number of deaths on the roadways where the speed limit increases have occurred. Speed limit increases are typically carried out in an effort to reduce traffic jams, traffic related breakdowns, driver road rage, and transportation costs. Many of the reasons that speed limits are increased are to reduce financial and time-related costs and reduce traffic annoyance. New thinking from congress is working towards reducing traffic fatalities; however lowering speed limits may, in turn, raise financial costs of travel. Individual states are responsible for managing their own speed limits. Texas is currently the only state in the union that has a maximum speed limit of 85 mph. There are six other states, including Utah, that have maximum speeds limits of 80 mph. The majority of remaining states in the middle of the country have maximum speed limits of 75 mph. In 1995, Congress repealed federally mandated speed limits and turned the responsibility of establishing maximum speed limits over to states. The main conclusion drawn from the data shows that, for every 5 mph of speed limit increase, fatal traffic deaths increase by approximately 4 percent in rural areas, and 8 percent, or more, in urban areas. See graphs below. Unfortunately many fatalities are not reported or not included in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey, so the results of increasing the speed limit are most likely under-estimated. The speed limit that was federally mandated back in 1993 was 65 mph. Since then, many states have increased their maximum speeds as shown in the graph below.             taken from http://www.iihs.org                  

Drowsy Driving is Dangerous

The topic of drowsy driving has been visited by researchers many times before now, however new data has shown that the issue of drowsy driving is more serious than previously thought. Every driver has probably been through an episode of tiredness when behind the wheel. As many have been able to arrive at their final destination while driving drowsy, many others have not arrived safely or have even been killed due to drowsy driving. The likelihood of causing an accident is definitely more severe when a driver is tired, drowsy, or otherwise sleepy. Researchers have compared the effects of driving drowsy to that of driving distracted, or even driving under the influence of alcohol. Reaction times are reduced when a driver is tired, and even worse than that, driving with your eyes closed and unconscious literally turns a moving vehicle into a lethal weapon for the driver, passengers, or others on the roadway. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has worked diligently to determine accident statistics relating to driving drowsy. While it can be difficult to determine if an accident was caused by drowsy driving, estimates have been made in attempt to raise public awareness of such a dangerous behavior when behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there were approximately 846 traffic-related deaths due to drowsy driving in 2014, and over the past decade, approximately 83,000 crashes per year can be blamed on drowsy driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has some pointers for drivers to follow to avoid driving drowsy and potentially causing an accident:
  • Ensure that one is getting about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to avoid becoming drowsy, especially if driving after dark or early in the morning.
  • Avoid drinking any alcohol before driving. Driving under the influence while tired increases the risk of an accident dramatically.
  • If any medication is taken that can cause drowsiness, avoid driving altogether. It is especially important to be aware of the effects that new medications can have on alertness and consciousness.
  • Remain vigilant for signs of tiredness and sleepiness, such as heavy eyelids, passing over the centerline, and shortness of breath. Any signs of sleepiness should signal the driver to stop driving immediately.
For more information, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving

Traffic Deaths Increased in 2016

Driving on the roads and highways in the United States can be dangerous. Statistics showing the number of fatalities caused during driving have been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA released the stats which showed that traffic deaths increased in 2016 over the number of deaths recorded during the same amount of time in 2015. The trend for traffic-related fatalities has been increasing every year since 2014. This has some researchers at NHTSA concerned and looking for an answer as to why the numbers are increasing. Experts have mentioned that the increase in deaths is due to an increase in the number of miles that Americans are driving. The amount of driving has steadily increased as the economy has improved and Americans are also taking advantage of the low cost of fuel. However, the increase in deaths has far outpaced the increase in miles driven. In fact, the increase in traffic-related deaths has risen approximately 8 percent since the beginning of 2015, where the increase in miles traveled has only increased about 3 percent. The increase in fatalities seems to be located around certain areas of the country. For example, in the heart of New England, traffic related deaths have increased significantly; around 20 percent more than in 2015. In the western center of the United States, an area that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, the increase in fatalities has only risen about one percent. Even more concerning is the fact that traffic-related deaths have increased even while almost all automakers have developed significant safety systems in new vehicles in an attempt to make the vehicles safer. Systems such as stability control, traction control, lane departure warnings, backup cameras and other similar systems are now common in new vehicles. Despite the increase in vehicle safety systems, traffic deaths are on the rise. -taken from Detroit News

New Technology Will Increase Fuel Economy of Big Rigs

A new technology developed for large semi trucks and other commercial vehicles shows great promise in increasing fuel economy. Semi tractor trailer vehicles, otherwise known as “Big Rigs” are the focus of a new cutting edge product that is being developed to help these large trucks reduce fuel consumption. The product uses plasma-emitting strips along the trailing edges of the big rig’s trailer to help eliminate aerodynamic drag present at the rear of the vehicle. Preliminary studies show that the plasma strips can reduce fuel consumption at highway speeds up to 10%, a significant savings considering there are over 133 million large trucks on the road that could benefit from this technology, and commercial vehicles consume over 60 billion gallons of fuel per year currently. The plasma strips consist of two electric plates separated by an insulating material that are energized at a high voltage to produce an electric plasma, or fourth state of matter. The plasma works to reduce air turbulence by negatively charging particles in the air, thus reducing the amount of turbulence caused at sharp corners, such as the sharp corners on the edges of a big rig’s leading edges, or the back of a trailer. The company that is developing this technology, Plasma Stream Technologies, has dubbed the system eTail. Plasma Stream Technologies claims that the system is completely safe and has shown great promise in laboratory tests. Real-world testing of the eTail is scheduled to begin in the coming months. Plasma Stream Technologies anticipates that a sellable product will be available to the commercial market by 2018. A retrofit device is expected to cost around $2000 and provide an average savings of over $8000 for big rigs that travel the roadways consistently. The eTail will be mountable on the rear edge of trailers without any additional modification. A huge benefit of the eTail over conventional aerodynamic aids such as boat-tails is that the eTail does not impede access to the rear doors of the trailers. The eTail will take up only a few inches of space around the rear of the trailer. Read More: Society of Automotive Engineering Article