TodayApril 17, 2022

MSNBC Alex Witt on new safety technologies

MSNBC on saving lives

October 2006 – There are now over 300 million people in the United States. According to RL Polk, there are around 227 million vehicles on the road. According to NHTSA, nearly 6.2 million police-reported motor vehicle crashes occurred in the United States in 2004. Almost one-third of these crashes resulted in an injury, with less than 1 percent of total crashes (38,253) resulting in death. What is new in safety technologies that will help save lives?

Electronic Stability Control – 10,000 lives

Seventy percent of the fatalities involve alcohol and rollovers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems use automatic computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to assist the driver in maintaining control in critical driving situations in which the vehicle is beginning to lose directional stability at the rear wheels (spin-out) or directional control at the front wheels (plow out).”

NHTSA estimates that ESC would save 5,300 to 10,300 lives and prevent 168,000 to 252,000 injuries in all types of crashes annually if all light vehicles on the road were equipped with ESC systems. The IIHS estimates that as many as 10,000 fatal accidents could be avoided each year if all vehicles were equipped with ESC.

A study done by John Woodrooffe noted that Electronic Stability Control systems “appear to be the most significant safety advance since seat belts.”

Different auto manufacturers call ESC different names. Here is a list of auto manufacturers and the names they use:

Acura & Honda: Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
Audi & VW: Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP)
General Motors products: StabiliTrak or Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
BMW & MINI: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
DaimlerChrysler & Mercedes-Benz: Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Ford products: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) or Advancetrak or Dynamic Traction
Hyundai: Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Infiniti & Nissan: Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
Kia: Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Toyota, Lexus & Scion: with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
Mitsubishi: Active Skid and Traction Control
Porsche: Porsche Stability Management (PSM)
Subaru: Vehicle Dynamics Control Systems (VDCS)
Suzuki: Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

Rearview camera with beeps – 392 lives

According to kidsandcars since 2004, at least 392 children were backed over and killed, many in their own driveways by relatives, because they could not be seen in vehicle blind spots. Over 60% of backing up incidents involved a larger sized vehicle, such as truck, van or SUV.

There are many Navigation systems (NAVs) that have rear cameras. My favorite backup camera used to be on the 2006 Infiniti M car. It not only showed you what was behind you but the backup path you would take by the way your wheels were positioned. If you changed your wheel position the yellow line changed the trajectory path to show you your new position. As you got closer to an object the color changed from green to yellow to red. The concern by NHTSA was that people who own these cameras would become complacent after a time and stop looking at the camera to see if someone was behind them.

The 2006 Infiniti QX56 has a rearview camera that incorporates beeps that increase in frequency as the vehicle gets closer to its object. The 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan and CL coupe and the 2007 BMW X5 will also have the rearview monitor with trajectory path and beeps.

Driver alert – 1,500 lives

Many accidents are caused by drowsiness. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 100,000 collisions are caused every year on U.S. highways by drivers who fall asleep. Of that number, fifteen hundred of the accidents result in fatalities and a further 71,000 lead to physical injuries.

The new 2007 Volvo S80 can be purchased with the new Volvo driver alert system. Volvo Car Corporation is taking a step toward “Active Safety” (helping drivers avoid vehicle collisions). The technology is designed to monitor the vehicle’s progress on the road and alert the driver if it detects signs of fatigue or distraction. The system does not take control of the vehicle.

Technically, Driver Alert consists of a camera, a number of sensors and a processor. The camera, which is installed between the windscreen and the rear-view mirror, continuously measures the distance between the vehicle and the markings on the surface of the road. The sensors register the vehicle movements while the processor stores the information and calculates whether the driver is at risk. The S80 assesses the risk and the driver is alerted via an audible signal and a text message appears in the vehicle’s information display.


New on the 2006 Audi Q7 is a blinker on their side mirror that blinks when someone is in your blind spot while you are driving. The side-assist option uses sensors to detect vehicles that are in the driver’s blind spot on either side of the car. It took me a while to realize that the lights that were blinking on the inside of the side mirror were because there was a car in my blindspot and I would have crashed into it had I not noticed the car.

As our nation gets older manufacturers are having to compensate for the elderly limitations. Older people cannot move their head to the side as far back as they did when they were younger. Side assist alerts them to take an extra look. Expect this option to show up on more Audis in the future. The Audi side assists won the “Innovation of the Future” special award from Germanys biggest consumer magazine “Guter Rat”.

Alcokey- 16,919 lives

Of the 38,253 fatal crashes in 2004, 16,919 people died in alcohol-related crashes, a full 39 percent of fatalities. Sweden has one of the best road safety records in Europe, but drinking and driving remain a serious hazard, accounting for about 35 percent of all crash fatalities in Sweden in 2005.

The Saab AlcoKey project has been supported by the Swedish National Road Administration as a means of improving driving safety. “We all have a responsibility to discourage drinking and driving,” said NRA Traffic Safety Director Claes Tingvall. ”

Before being able to start the car, the driver must first switch on Saab AlcoKey and blow into the mouthpiece for about three seconds, until the unit emits a beep. The breath sample passes over a tiny sensor inside the unit and green or red light is immediately illuminated on Saab AlcoKey. The green light indicates a satisfactory sample and the engines electronic immobilizer is released via Saab AlcoKeys radio signal, allowing the driver to start the car and proceed. If a red light shows, the engine cannot be started as the engine immobilizer remains armed. Go back inside and get a cup of coffee, because you’re not going anywhere.

A technology that is about five-to-ten years away is an inexpensive technology from General Motors. GMs technology is called vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V. The technology incorporates ONSTAR, GPS, and sensors that all talk to each other. V2V allows cars to see each other and talk to another car that has the same technology within 300 yards. The car monitors traffic location, speed, and braking activity. Icons appear in the instrument panel and chimes will tell the driver to expect delays.

The good news is that the fatality rate per 100,000 people is going down. In 1994, 23.21 people per 100,000 were killed. By 2004, 21.54 people per 100,000 were killed in car accidents. Cars and people are increasing in population, and the miles driven have increased from 2.3 billion miles a year in 1994 to 2.963 billion miles a year in 2004. Technology has been instrumental in avoiding accidents and reducing fatalities.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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