In an effort to significantly reduce deaths and injuries on the nation's roadways, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced its new "Significant and Seamless" initiative that calls for the agency and the automotive industry to aggressively accelerate achievable technological advances that would significantly improve safety.
NHTSA's "Significant and Seamless" initiative aims to address the areas in highway safety where industry can fast-track existing technology for the greatest technological advances. The initiative emphasizes three promising areas of technological development and challenges both the automotive industry and the agency to determine the extent of, and ultimately utilize, the significant safety potential in these areas.
"Safety is our top priority and we can achieve remarkable progress in reducing injuries and fatalities in this era of innovation and technology," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Today's announcement focuses on real solutions that can significantly address safety issues that have plagued this nation for decades, including failure to use seat belts, drunk driving and driver error."
The three technologies are:
Seatbelt Interlocks – This technology could prevent a vehicle from being driven if the driver and passenger are not properly buckled. Using new authority under MAP-21, NHTSA is conducting research to inform an agency decision on whether to amend its standards to allow vehicle manufacturers to voluntarily use such interlocks in satisfying certain crash test requirements. For those manufacturers that choose seatbelt interlocks, the agency would look to provide appropriate regulatory relief from portions of the occupant protection standard. Each year, more than 3,000 people killed in crashes could have survived if they had been wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelt interlocks could increase use from the current national level of 86 percent to near 100 percent, saving thousands of lives a year. To provide safety benefits, NHTSA has begun research to ensure that such interlocks would be tamper-proof and highly reliable.
Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) – This technology could prevent a vehicle from being driven by a drunk driver. NHTSA and the automotive industry have partnered to advance the long-term research in this advanced technology and will now begin working on the legal, public policy and consumer acceptance issues to ensure that when the technology is ready for commercialization, manufacturers that choose to offer the system as an option will find a marketplace with few to no impediments to consumer adoption. The goal is to develop a system that can accurately and reliably detect when a driver is above the legal alcohol limit. The automatic system would be enabled every time the car is started, but unobtrusive so it would not pose an inconvenience to the non-intoxicated driver. According to new NHTSA data released earlier today, 10,322 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2012. The majority of those people died in crashes involving drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or higher – nearly double the legal limit. Such technology could save thousands of these victims every year.
Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation (FCAM) – This sensor-based, vehicle technology could detect a forward crash with another vehicle or pedestrian before it occurs, by alerting the driver to take corrective action to avoid the crash. In 2012, one-third of all police reported crashes involved a rear-end collision with another vehicle as the first harmful event in the crash. This technology could automatically apply the brakes to assist in preventing or reducing the severity of crashes. NHTSA has been doing intensive research on the reliability of this technology and developing relevant performance measures. Based on its research, the agency has enough data to make an agency decision this year as to pathways to advance market penetration into the rest of the fleet.
The three technologies chosen under the Significant & Seamless initiative were selected because they have great lifesaving potential, and their combined effect could have an impact on decreasing the death toll.
"In addition to our ongoing work with states and the automotive industry, we need a new vision, and a new blend of technological research to address some of the most significant and persistent threats to American motorists," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "We must look to technological intervention to make the next great leap, and get them poised for fleet adoption as soon as possible."
The new "Significant and Seamless" initiative builds on a solid foundation of NHTSA safety programs. These programs include work with states to educate motorists, improve driving behavior, including emergency response to crashes, and will increase the agency's commitment to enhancing occupant protection, crash worthiness and crash avoidance, with the promise of automated driving.