Our roadways are safer than ever—vehicle fatality rates are at their lowest levels since 1993, despite huge increases in vehicle miles traveled—but there is more work to be done. I believe the most promising gains in road safety will come from new crash avoidance technologies—an area where NHTSA’s research engineers are leading the way. Today the technology exists not only to reduce the severity of a crash, but to prevent it entirely.
Let me tell you a bit about what I see ahead.
Imagine a car with a forward-collision warning system that can detect when the vehicle in front of it has slowed or stopped. This device will help prevent the most common crash—the rear-end collision. Or imagine a car with a road or lane departure warning device that can alert drivers when they stray from their lane. This will be a huge help in combating drowsy driving, a significant issue. I also picture cars of the future with blind-spot warning systems that can signal to the driver when another vehicle is close. This will be invaluable on our congested interstates, where changing lanes at high speeds is common.
The most promising crash avoidance technology is already rapidly entering America’s fleet, thanks to NHTSA and innovators in the auto industry. This is electronic stability control. ESC is especially useful in reducing rollovers, one of the most deadly types of crashes—especially for our high-off-the-road SUVs. We estimate ESC will save more than 10,000 lives when fully integrated into the fleet, in accord with NHTSA’s regulation, which became final last year. I predict ESC will give us the biggest safety gains since the seat belt!
Highway safety begins with the family choice of a vehicle. NHTSA’s 5-star New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) rates vehicles on crashworthiness and rollover. To help families choose safe vehicles—new or used—NHTSA will this year strengthen our rating system, with tougher standards and stronger crash avoidance metrics.
The agency is also battling one of the most daunting challenges on America’s roadways: drunk driving. Impaired driving claims more than 15,000 lives a year—more than a quarter of them are under 21. But here again, we’re optimistic. Not only do our high-visability enforcement campaigns carry more punch than ever. We recently held a summit focused on increasing the use of alcohol ignition interlock systems. Other new alcohol detection systems are now in development through a research partnership with the auto industry. At DOT, we’ll never relent in our efforts to reduce the epidemic of road fatalities that plagues our nation. But we have every reason to be hopeful that we can achieve strong gains in this crucial area.
-Administrator Nicole Nason