Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a special report entitled The Use of Forward Collision Avoidance Systems to Prevent and Mitigate Rear-End Crashes. In the 60-page document, the agency laid out some of its near-term hopes and dreams for America's auto industry.
As the title suggests, at the top of the NTSB's wish list was the widespread availability of forward collision avoidance systems -- that is, systems that sound alerts and automatically apply brakes when they identify obstacles in a vehicle's path. Such systems prevent cars from rear-ending vehicles ahead of them, and many are designed to spot pedestrians, too.
Why would the NTSB place such a high value on collision avoidance systems?
For starters, they could prevent many, many injuries and deaths. In a press conference held at the report's release, NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart noted that rear-end collisions are responsible for roughly 1,700 deaths each year and half a million injuries. According to the NTSB, over 80 percent of those injuries and fatalities could be avoided or mitigated if collision avoidance systems were widely available. (Which, FWIW, sounds very similar to the NTSB's stats associated with vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Coincidence?)
But even more importantly, collision avoidance systems are already available. They're not some far-off, moonshot technology, they don't require massive sums of infrastructure investment by automakers, states, or the federal government. They can be found on cars right now.
Unfortunately, collision avoidance systems rarely come standard on new cars, and they can be costly add-ons. As the NTSB notes: "Only 4 out of 684 passenger vehicle models in 2014 included a complete forward collision avoidance system as a standard feature. When these systems are offered as options, they are often bundled with other non-safety features, making the overall package more expensive."
Hart and his colleagues know that the best way to encourage widespread adoption of collision avoidance systems is to require them on new vehicles. The only thing is, he doesn't want that technology to increase the cost of cars: "You don’t pay extra for your seatbelt. And you shouldn’t have to pay extra for technology that can help prevent a collision altogether."
It's a little ironic that the NTSB would issue such a report the same week that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and its potentially flawed collision avoidance system. But that's not to say that the NTSB's recommendation isn't valid. Assuming the agency's stats are correct, the return on investment in such systems could be huge.
We have a hunch that, like airbags and seatbelts, collision avoidance and other new, high-tech safety systems will soon become standard on new vehicles. Whether that's due to federal regulation, consumer demand, or automakers' desire to prove that they care about the safety of their customers is a matter for debate.
As for who's going to pay for the technology, that's a no-brainer. Want to take a guess?
You can hear Chairman Hart's speech embedded above and read a PDF of the NTSB report here.