Pace of technology: Automatic braking for cars

Federal regulators and the auto industry are taking a more lenient approach than safety advocates would like when it comes to phasing in automatic braking systems for passenger cars, according to records of their private negotiations.  The technology automatically applies brakes to prevent or mitigate collisions, rather than waiting for the driver to react. While such systems are already available in dozens of car models, typically as a pricey option on higher-end vehicles, they should be standard in all new cars, according to safety advocates.  But instead of mandating it, the government is trying to work out a voluntary agreement with automakers in hopes of getting it in cars more quickly. The Associated Press has obtained the Meeting minutes from three of the meetings that NHTSA has held with automakers since October which show that the government is considering granting significant concessions.  Records of the third negotiating session, on Nov. 12, show that automatic braking systems would be allowed that slow vehicles by as little as 5 mph before a collision. Furthermore, manufacturers may be allowed to exempt 5 percent of their vehicles from the standard with an additional exemption for models that manufacturers intend to phase out or redesign.  The minutes don’t specify a model year by which the technology would have to be included in cars, but the group did decide that discussion of any deadline would begin with “the latest date submitted by any automaker” for when they would be ready to make the change. Meeting participants included NHTSA, 16 automakers, two auto industry trade groups and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the insurance industry’s safety research arm). Representatives from Transport Canada, the Canadian government’s auto safety regulator, also attended. NHTSA estimates show that there are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the U.S., killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about $47 billion annually. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision.  NHTSA announced last year that it will include automatic braking and other collision-avoidance technologies in its five-star safety rating program to encourage automakers to more widely adopt the technology. In an unusually pointed criticism, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, said in a report last year that “slow and insufficient action” by NHTSA to develop performance standards for automatic braking and collision warning systems and to require the technologies in cars and trucks “has contributed to the ongoing and unacceptable frequency of rear-end crashes.”

AAA testifies in favor of retaining Tennessee’s Motorcycle Helmet Law

Knoxville, TN – On Tuesday, the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on House Bill 700 by Representative Jay Reedy (R-74th Dist. TN).  The proposed bill would allow riders 21 years and older not insured with TennCare, to ride without a helmet. Tennessee’s current law requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, regardless of age or experience of the rider. The AAA (American Automobile Association) has come out in strong opposition to the bill. Last week during the Committee meeting Don Lindsey (the Tennessee Public Affairs Director for AAA east), testified to the drastic drop in helmet use seen in other states after repealing helmet laws. The auto club also brought in another individual with a personal testimony in support of helmet laws. In the event of a crash, motorcyclists without a helmet are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injuries. Helmets have been shown to be highly effective in preventing brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in lifelong disabilities. Helmets also decrease the overall cost of medical care. Historically, states that relax their helmet laws have seen a sizeable increase in injuries and deaths. According to a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Pennsylvania had a 66 percent increase in deaths caused by head injuries and a 78 percent spike in head injury hospitalizations following motorcycle crashes.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities in Kentucky increased by 58 percent after they repealed their helmet laws.  Finally, in Florida, the number of hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head, brain and skull injuries increased by 82% after its helmet law was relaxed.

NHTSA Releases Its Latest Crash Statistics

NHTSA released its latest crash data statistics in two separate publications. The first is titled “Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Nine Months (Jan-Sep) of 2015” . This document provides a “statistical projection of traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2015.” The report estimates that 26,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic accidents in that time period. This is an estimated increase of 9.3% when compared to the same time period in 2014. During the first nine months of 2014, there were an estimated 23,796 deaths. The second document is titled simply “Quick Facts 2014 (DOT HS 812 234).” The purpose of this document is to provide a quick reference sheet covering the most commonly asked questions relating to motor vehicle traffic accidents and fatalities.

NHTSA declares that Google’s AI ‘Driver’ Can Qualify For US Roads

In a letter to Google’s Chris Urmson, the director of the company’s self-driving car project, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concludes that it would consider the company’s self-driving vehicles (SDVs) as having a driver under federal regulations, despite being controlled by a computer.  This means that self-driving or autonomous vehicles are a step closer to America’s highways.  NHTSA posted a detailed response on its Web site. Google’s SDVs are fully autonomous, meaning that the operations of these vehicles are controlled exclusively by a self-driving system (SDS), according to the search giant.  The SDS is an artificial-intelligence (AI) driver, which is a computer designed into the motor vehicle itself that controls all aspects of driving by perceiving its environment and responding to it. Now, according to the NHTSA, that’s enough to qualify for driving. “NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” according to the NHTSA, which was released this week. “We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.” Google’s cars are designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. “The next question is whether and how Google could certify that the (self-driving system) meets a standard developed and designed to apply to a vehicle with a human driver,” according to the NHTSA.  

DOT announces increase in 2015 roadway deaths

NHTSA 02-16 Friday, February 5, 2016 Contact: Gordon Trowbridge, 202-366-9550, Public.Affairs@dot.gov The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today announced its latest estimate of traffic deaths, which show a steep 9.3 percent increase for the first nine months of 2015. The news comes as the agency kicks-off its first in a series of regional summits with a day-long event in Sacramento, Calif., to examine unsafe behaviors and human choices that contribute to increasing traffic deaths on a national scale. Human factors contribute to 94 percent of crashes according to decades of NHTSA research. “For decades, U.S. DOT has been driving safety improvements on our roads, and those efforts have resulted in a steady decline in highway deaths,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “But the apparent increase in 2015 is a signal that we need to do more. The safety summits that NHTSA is kicking off today in Sacramento will provide us with new approaches to add to the tried-and-true tactics that we know save lives.” NHTSA estimates that more than 26,000 people died in traffic crashes in the first nine months of 2015, compared to the 23,796 fatalities in the first nine months of 2014. U.S. regions nationwide showed increases ranging from 2 to 20 percent. “We’re seeing red flags across the U.S. and we’re not waiting for the situation to develop further,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Administrator. “It’s time to drive behavioral changes in traffic safety and that means taking on new initiatives and addressing persistent issues like drunk driving and failure to wear seat belts.” The estimated increase in highway deaths follows years of steady, gradual declines. Traffic deaths declined 1.2 percent in 2014 and more than 22 percent from 2000 to 2014. Today’s summit in California is the first in a series of cross-cutting regional summits being held across the country, capped by a nationwide gathering in Washington, to gather ideas, engage new partners, and generate additional approaches to combat human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths. These summits will address drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving; speeding; failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats; and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Automatic  Braking Systems reduce rear-end collisions

A new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that vehicles equipped with front crash prevention systems are far less likely to be involved in a rear-end accident than those vehicles without such systems. Though not a shocking conclusion, the results show that there is a real benefit to front crash prevention systems. According to the study, automatic braking systems reduce rear-end collisions by about 40 percent on average. Forward collision warning systems, which warn drivers of an impending impact but don’t apply the brakes, were found to reduce rear-end crashes by 23 percent.  The IIHS estimates that if all vehicles were equipped with automatic braking systems there would have been 700,000 fewer rear-end collisions in 2013. “The success of front crash prevention represents a big step toward safer roads,” says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer. “As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end crashes.” Moreover, the study found that rear-end crashes involving vehicles equipped with auto braking had a 42 percent decrease in reported injuries. That figure jumps to 47 percent with Volvo’s City Safety system. “Even when a crash isn’t avoided, systems that have auto brake have a good chance of preventing injuries by reducing the impact speed,” says Jessica Cicchino, the study’s author and the Institute’s vice president for research. Forward collision warning systems alone, however, didn’t have a measurable effect on injuries. The study found that such warning systems reduced injuries by only 6 percent, which isn’t statically significant. “It’s surprising that forward collision warning didn’t show more of an injury benefit, given that HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) has found big reductions in injury claims with the feature,” said Cicchino. Although auto brake systems are clearly beneficial, IIHS notes that such systems are often bundled with other technologies like adaptive cruise control, so their exact effectiveness is difficult to track. The IIHS along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last year that they has reached an accord with automakers to make auto braking standard across all vehicles, but a date for that implementation has not been set. Read more: http://www.leftlanenews.com/front-crash-prevention-systems-reduce-crashes-injuries-iihs-study-90863.html#ixzz3yf5zFj27

The Value of IIHS Safety Ratings

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a non-profit organization that performs testing and research on new cars in order to assign safety ratings.  The IIHS conducts various crash tests on new vehicles and assigns ratings based on how they do. They have five main tests to determine crashworthiness: Moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint. They then rate the vehicles as “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal,” or “poor” in each test. While there are undoubtedly numerous factors in addition to vehicle design which effect a vehicle’s crash worthiness, the IIHS tests have proven to be fruitful. Their ratings help consumers make better informed decisions and have pushed automakers to produce safer vehicles.  A comparison of death and injury reductions for vehicles with a “good” versus a “poor” rating in IIHS tests shows the following:
  • Front offset with moderate overlap test: Fatality risk in head-on crashes is 46% lower
  • Side Impact Crash Test: Fatality risk in side impact crashes 70% lower
  • Rear Impact Test (seat only): Neck injury risk in rear crashes is 15% lower and the risk of neck injury requiring 3+ months treatment is 35% lower

Traffic fatalities fall in 2014, but early estimates show 2015 trending higher

The nation saw a slight decline in traffic deaths during 2014. However, an increase in estimated fatalities during the first six months of this year reveals a need to reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America’s roads, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today.

NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) figures for 2014 show 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 0.1-percent decrease from the previous year. The fatality rate fell to a record-low of 1.07 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Estimates for the first six months of 2015 show a troubling increase in the number of fatalities. The 2015 fatality estimate is up 8.1 percent from the same period last year, and the fatality rate rose by 4.4 percent. NHTSA experts cautioned that while partial-year estimates are more volatile and subject to revision, the estimated increase represents a troubling departure from a general downward trend.

NHTSA has launched a series of safety initiatives in recent months, including efforts to speed technology innovations that can improve safety and the agency’s first comprehensive effort to fight drowsy driving. The agency will hold a series of cross-cutting regional meetings across the country early next year, capped by a nationwide gathering in Washington, to gather ideas, engage new partners, and generate additional approaches to combat human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths. These meetings will address drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving; speeding; failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats; and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Data for 2014 from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) show that while overall road deaths declined only slightly, it was the safest year on record for passenger vehicle occupants: 21,022 Americans died in vehicles in 2014, the lowest number since FARS began collecting data in 1975. While cyclist deaths also declined, the number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.1 percent from 2013.

Other trends remained stubbornly constant. Deaths in drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities; approximately half of all vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts; deaths of motorcyclists without helmets remained far higher in states without strong helmet laws; and speeding was a factor in more than one in four deaths. NHTSA research shows that in an estimated 94 percent of crashes, the critical cause is a human factor. In contrast, vehicle-related factors are the critical reason in about 2 percent of crashes.

While final 2015 numbers and a breakdown of factors in the year’s fatalities will not be available until next year, NHTSA experts noted that job growth and low fuel prices could be a factor, not only in increased driving overall, but in increased leisure driving and driving by young people, which can contribute to higher fatality rates.

Additional 2014 crash data show:
  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014.
  • Nearly half (49%) of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.
  • The number of motorcyclists killed was far higher in states without strong helmet laws, resulting in 1,565 lives lost in 2014.
  • Cyclist deaths declined by 2.3 percent, but pedestrian deaths rose by 3.1 percent from the previous year. In 2014, there were 726 cyclists and 4,884 pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities, killing 3,179 people in 2014.
  • Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6 percent of all crash fatalities; at least 846 people died in these crashes in 2014.