Driver error may cause 94% of the nearly 33,000 annual motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S., but countermeasures are not necessarily obvious because the detailed data are less clear. A government agency like the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “is a data-driven agency,” so it needs definitive data to develop regulation, explained Esther Wagner of NHTSA Research and Program Development. She spoke at the 25th annual World Traffic Safety Symposium during the 2015 New York Auto Show.
NHTSA and the car makers know a lot about the causes, and she described the level of information that’s available. Example: 28 of the 90 deaths (30%) daily are alcohol-related, with 21% of the drivers in fatalities having a blood alcohol level of the legal maximum of 0.08 or above. Which is why NHTSA is excited by possible development of an electronic Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, now in an advanced research phase. However, there are so many related factors that there’s no one silver bullet. Government and industry have to look at many possible directions that could contribute cost-effectively to fewer deaths and injuries, even if it seems larger targets are not addressed.
Complexity of crash picture
Just because alcohol is involved, the overall auto accident picture is more complicated, and she pointed to NHTSA's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, which covers all types of accidents. That identifies specific driver issues, particularly recognition error (including driver inattention, leading to lack of focus of the impending collision)—41%, the wrong action (decision error)—33%, a driving performance error—11%, and a failure to perform (such as falling asleep)—7%.
These data led NHTSA to look at what she called the "four Ds" that affect driver errors: in addition to drunk driving, she cited drugged, distracted, and drowsy. She said roadside surveys show the effect of drugs is increasing, but the risk effect is unclear and NHTSA wonders if drug impairment could be detected from driving cues. She also noted campaigns and engineering efforts underway to mitigate distracted driving, including regulations regarding smartphone use while driving, and said these efforts are being monitored.
In addition to NHTSA, New York City and New York State traffic safety professionals participated and engineers from General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota explained approaches their companies are taking to address areas of concern.
One data subset—teens in cars—accounted for 2524 teen deaths in 2013, and although not all were drivers, some 55% were not wearing seat belts. Although NHTSA data says 87% of passengers overall are wearing the belts, the subject has value in a teen-focused program. Further, a AAA study found that distractions were a factor in 58% of teen-related crashes. That included talking, mobile phone use, singing, and noted Toyota's Ed Bradley, Manager of Technical and Regulatory Affairs, "dancing, yes dancing." He did not go into descriptive details of that.
GM's teen "report card"
Teen driving was an issue given attention by all three of the OE speakers.
GM's Brian Latouf, Global Vehicle Safety Director, explained the new Teen Driver program at General Motors, which features display software in the car, activated in the settings menu on the radio. The parent registers the teen's key fob and settings apply to that key fob only.
With access by entering a pre-selected PIN, the parent can see what is called a "report card" on the radio screen. It lists distance driven, maximum speed, how many times an overspeed warning came up, whether or not the forward-collision warning system alerted the teen driver, how often the auto braking was triggered, and how many stability control events occurred. Additionally, the vehicle has teen driver settings: mutes the radio until driver and passenger are buckled up, allows the parent to pre-set an audio volume limit, and provides both visual and audible warnings if the car goes over a parental pre-selected speed in the range of 40-75 mph (64-120 km/h). Further, driver-selectable safety features, such as in the stability-control or lane-departure warning, automatically default to on. This software feature will be installed first on the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
Nissan North America's Chris Reed, Vice President of the Nissan NA Technical Center, pointed to "ThinkFast," an interactive game show the company is sponsoring that is staged at high schools throughout the country, in cooperation with governmental and education authorities. It uses a MTV-style production with a host, music and videos, and trivia. Wireless remote controls enable an entire student audience to participate (up to five students per team playing at one time). It uses messages of driver awareness for accident prevention and reinforces them throughout the program.
Nissan safety targets
Reed also told attendees of Nissan's safety targets, to reduce fatalities in the company's products by 50% from 1995 to 2015 (3.14 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles to 1.57—which was achieved), and a further 50% reduction (to 0.79) by 2020. He noted the safety technologies that Nissan has been among the first to have, including lane-departure warning (2004), 360° view dashboard monitor (2008MY), backup collision intervention (auto braking) in 2013, and the new radar-based "predictive" forward collision warning introduced last year and installed on the new Maxima. This system radar actually looks under the car in front for signs of a vehicle ahead of it that stops suddenly. This feature is warning-only; auto-braking reacts only to the car directly in front.
Reed also discussed Nissan's new Driver Attention Alert, which focuses on drowsy driving. Although there have been warning systems that were based on distance driven without a rest break, the Nissan alert is an algorithm that continuously monitors the driver's right and left steering corrections, looking for an anomaly in the latest data that differs from previous data in a way that indicates a tiring driver. If drowsiness is indicated, audible and visual warnings (including the coffee cup symbol on the dashboard display) are triggered.
As part of its vey gradual path to autonomous driving, Reed noted that next year Nissan will have a "traffic jam pilot," that will automate the stop-and-go crawl tedium on congested roads.
Teen clinics at dealers
Toyota's Bradley also described the company 's Teen Drive 365, a multi-faceted program that includes use of a distracted driving simulator, installed at auto shows, and teen safe diving clinics in dealerships. Clinics are not quickie visits; they take 2.5 h, require teens to be accompanied by parent or guardian, and include not just defensive driving and avoiding distractions, but an elementary education on the car, such as the best mirror and seat adjustments as well as basic maintenance. It's aimed at teens about to get permits, the newly permitted, and newly licensed.
Bradley noted the company also is a participant with a number of universities in research by the Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center. And he pointed to the company's partnership with AARP in a safety training program for older drivers. This program had 1.6 million participants and 95% said they had changed at least one key driving behavior as a result.
At the New York show, Toyota announced it would be offering its key safety features in low-cost packages for new cars. See http://articles.sae.org/14032/.