On the road to zero
Crashes and the related fatalities continue to hover at near record levels, according to preliminary estimates released in February from the National Safety Council’s report “The Road to Zero: A Vision for Achieving Zero Roadway Deaths by 2050.” For the first time since the Great Recession, the U.S. had three straight years of at least 40,000 roadway deaths. In 2018, an estimated 40,000 people lost their lives in car crashes, a 1% decline from the numbers in 2017 and 2016. About 4.5 million people were seriously injured in crashes last year, also a 1% decrease over 2017 figures.
The NSC’s estimate signals a leveling off after years of consecutive rises, but last year's estimated 40,000 deaths is 14% higher than four years ago. Driver behavior and impairment are likely contributing to the high numbers. Although the estimates do not reveal causation, the 2017 data show spikes in deaths among pedestrians, while distraction continues to be involved in 8% of crashes, and drowsy driving in an additional 2%.
To help ensure safer roads, NSC urges motorists to practice defensive driving, avoid driving while fatigued and distracted, and learn about their vehicle's safety systems and how to use them by visiting MyCarDoesWhat.org. Many consumers don’t understand existing ADAS (advanced driving assistance system) technology, let alone what’s in store for future automated driving systems.
That last point was echoed during the CES 2019 launch of PAVE (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education), a coalition of industry, nonprofit, and academic institutions founded to inform the public and policymakers about the potential and reality of advanced vehicle technologies and self-driving vehicles. The coalition intends to hold events across the country to introduce driver assistance and self-driving technology to consumers and policymakers; hold educational workshops to help federal, state, and local officials make informed policy decisions; and develop educational materials to distribute to retail sales and customer service personnel.
“Traditional automakers and newcomers are investing billions of dollars in the technology that will make automated vehicles possible,” said Mark Del Rosso, President, Audi of America. “PAVE recognizes the need to invest in public information—in making sure consumers and policymakers understand what’s real, what’s possible, and what is rumor or speculation.”
According to the NSC’s Road to Zero report, safety advocates would like to see ADAS on all makes and models of vehicles as quickly as possible, but the business case for incorporating these technologies in affordable and widely available models depends on consumer demand at prices they are willing to pay. Another conflict is whether the public will accept some loss of freedom behind the wheel in exchange for a future with no fatalities.
The NSC report provided a number of suggestions for the many stakeholders of the “traffic safety community,” including for auto manufacturers and technology developers. Among the suggestions are:
Work with stakeholders to identify priority safety needs and accelerate widespread adoption of the most promising life-saving technologies as quickly as possible.
Participate in efforts to improve data sharing, while enhancing privacy and cybersecurity for the common benefits of product development and research.
Address vulnerable road users in safety research and design.
Work with stakeholders to educate consumers about the safety benefits and the safe use of advanced technologies.
Advanced driving assistance system and automated driving technologies present great opportunities to improve the safety, mobility, and sustainability of transportation, but informing consumers and policy makers of the potential benefits is essential. That includes educating not only on what current vehicles can do but also about the safety and convenience advantages of future automated driving systems.