Auto safety standards were a second-rank topic at the SAE Government/Industry Meeting in early February, overshadowed by the three E's: economy, efficiency, and emissions. Even Adrian Lund, President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, acknowledged that the auto industry's financial woes may have to be taken into consideration as NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) moves forward on new safety standards. But while the economy may be soft, the IIHS has no intention of going soft itself nor will it go easy on the Obama administration if it appears to be too sympathetic to Detroit.
In a panel session at the event in the nation's capital, Lund bemoaned the fact that about 40,000 people in the U.S. die each year in auto accidents. Yet the consumer rush to buy smaller cars, especially when gas was near $4 a gallon, risked driving up deaths and injuries even higher. Lund lauded NHTSA for adopting an “attribute” approach to its new CAFE standards since it does not penalize auto manufacturers who offer larger cars. “I hope the Obama DOT doesn’t reverse that approach,” he said.
Lund expects to hear a lot of “howling” from the industry about new NHTSA standards and that some newer safety technologies “may not be all that effective.” He singled out crash-avoidance technologies, which he called “promises, not realities.”
Lund and all the other panelists noted that policymakers, at least until now, seemed to believe that a dependence on new technology, whether in an auto or on a city street, was the only way to reduce emissions and fuel use while providing for occupant and bystander safety. He repeatedly cited “low tech” solutions, such as building more roundabouts on city streets in place of smart traffic signals, as a means of reducing idling and gasoline consumption. “We shouldn’t be bamboozled by the promise of high technology,” he said.