NHTSA administrator predicts more technology and fewer wrecks

| 4/27/2007

When more than 30,000 vehicle engineers gather to present concepts about the future of vehicle design and technology, the event gets attention from government and industry alike.

Nicole Nason, the administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the Society of Automotive Engineers 2007 World Congress in Detroit in early April that drivers may have to give up some control of the car to save lives. Nason was the keynote speaker for an SAE session titled “Safety Sells.”

She told the audience of engineers and executives that the old safety message was that vehicle drivers and occupants needed to be protected in crashes. This was done by improving vehicle crashworthiness, which is the ability of a vehicle to help occupants survive when crashes occur. She cited air bags and controlled crushing as examples.

“That was past thinking. Today, we are emphasizing crash avoidance.” she said. “Everyone thinks they are the gold standard of driving. No one says ‘I’m a bad driver,’ but we all know they are out there.”

Nason said crash-avoidance technology can keep a driver safe from him or herself.

“But, that involves giving up control in certain situations, even if only for a few seconds. Before we can trust technology, the technology must be perfect,” she said. “But technology is not new. More than 300,000 lives have been saved (because of safety technology) since the 1960s.”

Nason talked about how electronic stability control has recently been mandated for all cars stating model year 2012. It is expected to reduce injuries from car crashes by 35 percent and from SUV injuries by 67 percent.

“The next campaign will be to eliminate drunken driving. Not just reduce it, but eliminate it,” Nason said.

She told how the implementation of interlock technology has been proven to reduce relapses to an undesirable behavior among those convicted of driving under the influence.

She predicted there will be an explosion in technology, “and the next generation will not only want it, they will demand it.” Examples mentioned that are already proven and accepted in commercial vehicles, include anti-rollover stability control, lane departure warning and front and rear collision avoidance devices.

When predicting what might come next, Nason said that in the future, we’ll have vehicle-to-vehicle communication where one vehicle will communicate directly with other vehicles so all act together to minimize crashes and damage. An example might be a chain reaction crash. It could be prevented if all vehicles applied brakes simultaneously instead of waiting for each driver to react to vehicles in front.

Nason said NHTSA has also set priorities to reduce teen driver distraction and to develop graduated driver’s licenses.

– By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor