The newly confirmed head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the agency needs to understand the risks posed by driver-assistance safety technology. Steven Cliff says what they find could lead to regulations for carmakers.
Cliff joined NHTSA in February 2021 and says he was surprised that the agency had no crash data specifying whether any vehicles had automated safety features. Before any federal rules are adopted for the technology, he says they need to know how these systems should work.
Driver safety technologies hold much promise
NHTSA says nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways last year, the most in 16 years. The agency says more than nine out of every 10 deaths were linked to human error or negligence. Safety experts believe many safety features offered by auto manufacturers save lives. These include:
- Automatic emergency braking
- Blind spot warning
- Forward collision warning
- Adaptive cruise control
- Lane-keeping assist
- Lane departure warning
But the technologies’ success depends upon drivers paying attention. Consumer Reports says some car buyers are confused by so-called “autonomous” safety features, such as Tesla’s Autopilot. Once these features are in use, many motorists think they can divert their attention from driving.
Safety groups work to reduce the confusion
Consumer Reports collaborated with auto safety groups to standardize the names for car safety devices, as automakers use different terms for similar features. While the Department of Transportation approved a list in 2020, automakers are under no obligation to use the consumer-friendly verbiage.
NHTSA has gathered initial data from July 2021 to May 2022, showing that automated vehicles were involved in nearly 400 crashes in those 11 months. The statistics indicate that Teslas were associated with more crashes than all other makes combined. However, NHTSA notes that Tesla has a much higher percentage of vehicles with driver-assist technology.