There are technologies that could save nearly a quarter-million lives over the next 30 years, and many cars have it already.
Safety features like automatic emergency braking, blind- spot detection and lane- departure warning — collectively called advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS — have already been shown to reduce crashes and injuries. A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety forecast the potential life-saving benefits of these systems, estimating that in addition to preventing traffic-related deaths, ADAS will prevent 37 million collisions and 14 million injuries from 2021 through 2050.
But Brian Tefft, principal researcher at the AAA foundation, has a word of warning for those who believe ADAS are a silver bullet for improving road safety. “It’s tempting to think that we’re on the brink of using technology to eliminate all crashes, injuries and deaths,” he said in an interview. However, even in the most optimistic scenario, more than 73 million people would still suffer injuries and nearly 850,000 would die in motor vehicle accidents over the same 30-year period, according to the study.
“It's important for our federal, state and local traffic safety partners to have an accurate understanding of where we are in our effort to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our roads,” Tefft said. The study outlined three scenarios based on the expected uptake of ADAS. It estimates that between 152,000 and 298,000 deaths and nearly 74 million to over 81 million nonfatal injuries could be prevented by ADAS over the next three decades. Researchers included only Level 2 ADAS technology, not higher-level autonomous driving systems.
“Quite honestly,” Tefft said, ADAS “cannot do everything that an alert, attentive, careful, sober driver can do.”
Moreover, not all drivers use the ADAS features in their cars. A McKinsey & Co. study published in July found that up to 30% of consumers whose cars are equipped with basic ADAS features don’t use them. In this study, drivers cited several reasons including a fear of the technology failing when needed, unfamiliarity with how to use the systems and the joy of driving without them. The study also found that ADAS technologies were favored more by electric vehicle buyers and buyers of premium-class vehicles.
Although these technologies can be costly, consumers may be willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. Timo Möller, who co-leads the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility and collaborated on the report, told Smart Cities Dive that car buyers said they would spend between $2,000 and $3,000 for ADAS technology and up to $10,000 for autonomous driving features.
But the study also found that consumer attitudes differed on self-owned autonomous vehicles and shared self-driving shuttles, which they favored more. Möller cited concerns around the reliability and safety of personal autonomous vehicles and the cost of Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology.
While Level 4 vehicles are unavailable to consumers in the U.S., Cruise and Waymo have operated driverless robotaxis in San Francisco since last year, and each company says it has completed more than one million rider-only miles. But in this real-world setting, there have been numerous incidents of vehicles stalling in traffic and interfering with emergency vehicles. Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started a preliminary investigation into Cruise self-driving vehicles in San Francisco, prompted by such incidents. Two Cruise robotaxis were involved in collisions this month, with one passenger injured in an accident.
NHTSA has also been looking into vehicles with ADAS, ordering manufacturers and operators in 2021 to report crashes involving vehicles equipped with such technology. As of May 15, 2022, the agency received reports of 392 crashes involving vehicles with level 2 ADAS features, with Tesla vehicles accounting for 273 of these accidents. A NHTSA investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with the automaker's Autopilot feature is about to wrap up, according to Reuters.
With nearly 43,000 people killed in traffic collisions in 2021, including over 7,300 pedestrians, current technologies will not go far enough to reduce the carnage on U.S. roads and streets, Tefft said. “We need to continue to invest in a wide array of proven countermeasures, consistent with a safe system approach, to continue to drive down the numbers of injuries and fatalities on our roads.”