NTSB calls on feds to standardize collision avoidance technology

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 6/9/2015

The National Transportation Safety Board has already recommended that the federal government make collision avoidance technology standard on new cars and trucks. The agency known for investigating crashes and issuing safety recommendations released a report on Monday, June 8, saying the use of the technology can “prevent or lessen the severity of rear-end crashes.”

NTSB has brought a recommendation of collision avoidance technology to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a total of 12 times over the past 20 years, but why the renewed push?

NTSB says rear-end crashes claimed 1,705 lives in 2012 and injured half a million. The agency believes 80 percent of those crashes could be prevented or made less severe through collision avoidance technology. Since only four of the 684 passenger vehicle models made in 2014 have the technology as standard equipment, any potential mandate would take years to phase in and would add cost to the sticker price of new vehicles.

Collision avoidance – also referred to as collision mitigation – involves forward-facing radar and driver warning alerts. Some systems go further and include autonomous emergency braking.

For commercial trucks, NTSB says it is “disappointed with the lack of progress” of performance standards for new vehicles. The agency says collision avoidance merits consideration for commercial vehicles “even without the existence of published performance standards.”

Part of NTSB’s recommendation asks NHTSA to develop performance standards for collision avoidance systems in commercial trucks. If the administration is already doing that, NTSB recommends that the process be sped up.

NTSB believes autonomous emergency braking – which applies the brakes based on what the forward-facing radar reads and sends to the truck’s computer – would reduce CMV crashes that involve the truck striking another vehicle from behind.

According to Bendix, maker of the Wingman Advanced and Wingman Fusion on-board safety systems, the forward-facing radar in a collision mitigation system is quite effective when an object in the roadway is a vehicle or at least made of metal. The company touts its systems as being able to buy those extra seconds of reaction time that are critical to help a driver avoid or lessen a catastrophe.

Non-metallic objects, however, such as people or animals, are currently not detected by the forward-facing radar. The manufacturers say they are working on that.

Another manufacturer of on-board safety systems, Meritor WABCO, issued a statement in support of NTSB’s recommendations. Meritor WABCO makes the OnGuard and OnGuardACTIVE systems, which it says are effective in poor visibility situations such as whiteouts, heavy rain, fog, blinding sunshine or nighttime driving. The company believes that its systems could reduce the number of rear-end collisions as much as 87 percent.

OOIDA says the NTSB’s advocacy efforts continue to push for technology in lieu of a driver training standard that the NTSB’s own board first recommended back in the 1970s.

“While the PR statements from manufacturers have generally been pretty honest about the capabilities of their systems and the continued need to a skilled driver behind the wheel of any vehicle, NTSB’s recent advocacy efforts in this area are largely silent about the limitations of the systems today and in the future,” said Ryan Bowley of OOIDA’s Washington, D.C., office.

“Technology is no silver bullet for highway safety, and the foundation of safer roads must be a skilled driver behind the wheel. OOIDA wishes that the NTSB had taken such an active role in pressuring the DOT to move forward with the recommendations on truck driver training standards issued by its own board back in the 1970s, which are still technically incomplete.”

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