Major improvements in safety significantly reduce auto fatalities

Motor vehicle fatalities continue to drop in America and new car safety technology is the single biggest reason.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released its early estimate of 2011 motor vehicle traffic fatalities. The data reveal – if the projections hold – that auto-related fatalities last year will be the lowest since the government started keeping records in 1949.

There have been almost 26 percent fewer deaths, or 10,000 fatalities per year, since 2005 – from 43,510 to 32,310 estimated this year. That’s a drop of 1.7 percent (-1.1 percent for the four-state mountain region of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah & Nevada).

The fatality rate for vehicle miles traveled (VMT) also plunged to a record low of an estimated 1.09 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2011 compared to 1.11 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2010.

Safety is a top priority, along with fuel efficiency and vehicle quality, for new car buyers, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey. Manufacturers delivered substantial progress in safety technology during the last decade.

Automakers have improved on “passive” safety features such as seatbelts and airbags, to develop systems that actually prevent accidents. Now, computers and other advanced technology can often anticipate trouble, make decisions and act much more quickly than drivers can.

Safety technology currently available as standard, optional or in development includes:

• Electronic Stability Control, Anti-lock Brakes, Rollover Prevention – On-board sensors and software detect if your car is over-or-under steering and apply brake pressure on individual wheels to correct your course.
• Emergency Brake Assist – This is an extension of anti-lock brakes. Simply put, your car’s computer determines when you’re braking in a panic, need the extra hydraulic pressure to stop your car faster and provides it.
• Adaptive Headlights – Gone are the days when headlights just pointed straight ahead. Now they can move to show where the car is going – such as lighting up a dark curve ahead.
• Night Vision Assist – Imagine night-vision goggles for cars. Special cameras pick up heat signatures and show the images on your car’s dashboard screen, so that unseen people, animals and other objects are visible.
• Intelligent Airbags – Airbags now can detect differences in body sizes and trigger airbags based on sophisticated analysis of them. In the future, exterior airbags will deploy to stop your car before a crash.
• Collision Warning, Automatic Braking, Distance Control Assist – Cars now can use radar and lasers to detect obstacles ahead on the road and adjust your car’s speed to maintain a safe distance. When the driver doesn’t respond to a warning, the car will slow automatically. Distance Control Assist is designed especially for use in stop-and-go traffic.
• Lane Departure Warning, Drowse Alarms – On-board cameras read the painted lines and give an alarm to alert the driver. Some advanced systems will correct the car’s course for the driver.
• Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications – Coming technology will allow cars to “talk” to each other to maintain safe distances and share information about problems that could result in crashes.

Distracted driving continues to be a safety issue, and technology is helping here, too, with developments like in-windshield displays, so that drivers don’t have to look away from the road to see controls or GPS information. The government has just released its “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving” with voluntary guidelines for manufacturers as they continue to develop new in-cabin features and apps.

Consumers want safe cars and the auto industry is working diligently to provide them. Google and several individual automakers are investing heavily in driverless technology for the cars of the future. Driverless cars are already being tested and will be coming down the road your way sooner than you might think.

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About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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