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Study says road deaths could be cut in half if more safety tech were standard

Consumer Reports wants features like automatic braking to be ubiquitous.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
June 29, 2020
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DIAMOND BAR, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 9. 2014: An officer with the California Highway patrol photographs evidence at the wreckage of a car crash on the westbound Pomona Freeway (60) in Diamond Bar on February 9, 2014. A wrong way driver in a Camaro (the very smashed car in front) on the west bound (west of Phillips Ranch Road) crashed head on with a Ford Explorer (middle red SUV) and a Ford Free Style (silver SUV in back). The 21 year old female driver, of Fontana, was charged with felony DUI and manslaughter.  (Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There’s little doubt that modern car safety features can be helpful, but Consumer Reports believes they could be crucial to saving lives. The publication just released a study estimating that US road deaths could be cut by 16,800 to 20,500, or roughly half of the 36,500 people lost in 2018, if certain safety features were standard on every car. Most of the lives saved, 11,800, would come fro ma combination of automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and pedestrian detection.

Another 3,700 to 7,400 people could survive with drunk driving prevention tech, particularly the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. Certain vehicle-to-vehicle connections could also save “at least” 1,300 lives by letting drivers known when it’s safe to move through an intersection or make a left turn.

Consumer Reports isn’t convinced that self-driving cars are ready to save lives, however. It argues that legislation like the AV START Act would only have mandated safety levels present on an average human-driven car. The outlet still believes autonomous cars have “enormous potential” for safety improvements — they’re just not at that point yet.

The timing of the study isn’t a coincidence. The House of Representatives is about to vote on the Moving Forward Act, a bill that would require every new car to come with crash avoidance systems and drunk driving prevention. It would toughen the standards for five-star safety ratings, too. CR is hoping the findings will not only help the bill pass, but spur car makers to include more safety features as standard and avoid tying them to optional luxury items like sunroofs and premium audio.

It’s not certain just how much the technology would help in practice. Certain features, like automatic braking and drunk driving prevention, can override drivers. However, warnings are ultimately optional — there’s no guarantee drivers will heed them or react in time. Even if the estimate is overly optimistic, though, that could still mean saving thousands of lives each year simply by making technology more commonplace.

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