Existing safety technologies could cut U.S. road deaths in half if they came standard on all new vehicles, according to a new Consumer Reports (CR) analysis and related fact sheets. CR’s study found that widespread adoption of crash avoidance technologies available today, and other existing safety systems, could save upward of 20,000 lives annually.

“Instead of providing safety for all, automakers put the burden on people to research, understand, and often pay extra for lifesaving car features,” said William Wallace, Manager of Safety Policy at Consumer Reports. “It takes decades for safety technology to come standard on all new cars as a result. Policymakers should choose a different path—one that will save lives now. We’re urging every member of Congress to put safety first by requiring lifesaving features to come standard on all new cars. The technologies are here to cut road deaths in half, and it would only compound the ongoing tragedy of lives lost on our roads if our leaders fail to ensure all drivers have them on their cars.”

The organization released the analysis as the U.S. House prepares to vote on the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2). The bill includes CR-endorsed auto safety provisions, including requirements for every new car to come standard with proven crash avoidance systems and advanced drunk driving prevention technology, and for the U.S. Department of Transportation to upgrade its five-star safety ratings so that they will be more up-to-date and useful for consumers.

Existing life-saving technologies on the market

CR’s study focused on the expected benefits of existing safety technologies if they were equipped on the entire fleet of motor vehicles in the U.S. Findings included:

  • 11,800 lives saved from four systems on the market today. Automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning (LDW), and blind spot warning (BSW) would be expected to prevent a combined 11,000 road deaths if adopted fleetwide, per a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analysis. NHTSA also has found full adoption of current pedestrian detection systems would be expected to prevent an additional 800 deaths.
  • 1300 lives saved, at least, from vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology. V2V has massive safety potential, and according to a NHTSA analysis, even just two applications of the technology—intersection movement assist (IMA) and left turn assist (LTA)—would be expected to save 1366 lives with full fleet adoption.
  • 3700-7400 lives saved from equipping all vehicles with drunk driving prevention technology. According to NHTSA, about 10,500 drunk driving fatalities occurred in 2018. Estimates predict full deployment of one particularly well-studied technology, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), could prevent 70% of these deaths. Alternative approaches, such as those based on driver monitoring systems, may also prove effective at detecting impairment and preventing or limiting vehicle operation.

Summed together, these figures led CR researchers to conclude that existing motor vehicle safety technology would save 16,800-20,500 lives per year if equipped across the full U.S. light-duty motor vehicle fleet. This totals approximately one-half of the 36,560 lives lost on U.S. roads in 2018.

While automated vehicles (AVs) offer enormous potential to improve safety and mobility, the organization says there is not sufficient evidence to support claims that AVs are proven to save people’s lives on U.S. roads. Previous legislative proposals, including the SELF DRIVE Act and AV START Act considered by Congress in 2017-2018, would not have established meaningful requirements for AVs to provide greater occupant protection and crash avoidance capabilities, and would have required only that they provide a level of safety the same as the average human-driven car on the road, according to CR.

“There has been an enormous amount of debate over policies to promote self-driving cars,” said Wallace. “But Congress and NHTSA’s first priority should be the lifesaving technologies we have in hand today, and making sure they are in every new car as soon as possible.”

Another recently published study by Consumer Reports found that some manufacturers of the country’s most popular vehicles are packaging lifesaving safety systems with add-ons like premium sunroofs and stereo systems. According to the organization, this is in effect taking advantage of some buyers who are just trying to protect themselves and their families, and putting lifesaving technology out of reach for others. CR found that consumers often are charged more than $2000—and, in two cases, more than $12000—just to get BSW or AEB with pedestrian detection on a new car.

For more information, visit https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CR-Safety-First-White-Paper-June-2020.pdf.