One of often-touted advantages of self-driving cars it will dramatically increase safety and nearly eliminate crashes. However, we don’t need fully-autonomous vehicles to make a significant improvement with that goal. In fact, progress is already being made with forward collision warning and automatic braking systems.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study on these advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and found that if all vehicles were equipped with forward collision warning (FCW) and automatic braking (AB) that 700,000 collisions in vehicles in 2013, which is 13% of all reported crashes. Using regression modeling and comparing police-reported accidents involving Acura, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and Volvo models equipped with either of these technology features against a control group of those same models without any ADAS in 22 states, the study found that forward collision warning alone reduces rear-end collisions by 23 percent, and systems with automatic braking reduced them by 40%.
Even when alerts or automatic braking can’t prevent a collision, there is still a benefit because any amount of braking can reduce speed, which in turn reduces injury severity for occupants. However, while the safety benefits are very real, the scenario of 100% of all vehicles being equipped with these technologies not.
“If it were required today, it would be 30 years before 95 percent of vehicles on the road had it,” said IIHS spokesperson Russ Rader.
But slow progress to make these safety features wide-spread is being made. Last year 10 manufacturers agreed to voluntarily make automatic braking standard on their vehicles, although no timeline for this goal was given. The lack of teeth in this agreement isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Rader said that manufacturers voluntarily planning on making it standard is often faster than the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration mandating it. As it stands, 60% of new vehicles will have an available front crash system in 2016. Of course, this means it an optional feature that is often bundled with other technologies that cost an extra $1,000 or more. But some vehicles offer it as a standard feature, and Rader pointed out that with the 2016 Scion iA, for the first time there will be a standard feature on a sub-$18,000 car.
There seems to be a race to introduce fully autonomous vehicles to the market, but it’s small changes like these that could dramatically improve safety in the short term. And for drivers who don’t plan on making a new vehicle purchase any time soon, there are aftermarket products that can add ADAS systems to their rides.