More than 100 Americans die every day in automobile accidents. In fact, over the last century, more have perished due to car crashes in the United States than in all the wars the country has fought. Although this is a horrible statistic, the 2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the largest U.S. decline in terms of both number and percentage since 1992. This vigorous reduction is a goal that automotive engineers are striving to continue year after year.
Innovative automotive engineering can make cars safer, but at the same time, drivers must also strive for improvements. Many motorists at one time or another can recall either almost being killed on the road, stories of road-rage or helplessly observing an accident happen right in front of their very eyes. According to a 1999 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) special, Escape! Because Accidents Happen – Car Crash, the roads are, indeed, a major threat. What’s more, an automotive magazine recently published statistics which reveal that more than 95% of these accidents involve some degree of (poor) driver behavior.
Indeed, some Americans may not rank amongst the best of the world’s drivers, but it’s not entirely due to operator error, either. Poor roadway maintenance, roadway design and equipment failure have also been referenced as top factors affecting crashes. Frequently, driving behavior interacts with at least one of these other factors to produce a grave situation.
Aside from rectifying the paradox that the majority of drivers consider themselves more skillful than their counterparts, better engineering and innovative automotive technology could help improve roadway safety. Today, it is well understood that properly deployed cushions of air (i.e., airbags) can assist in saving lives. In much the same way, in the previous generation, the advantages of good restraining devices were discovered. Car navigation systems particularly aid the directionally challenged – and, what about using those fancy “carputers” for technology to help make our roads safer? Automotive engineers are answering this need by developing “active safety systems.” These systems can help reduce the number of crashes and minimize the effects of crashes that do occur.
Automotive safety is taking on a new role as active safety components are beginning to gain ground as technology and development improve. Some suppliers are developing specialized active and passive safety systems. These include forward collision and lane departure warning, electronic stability control, pre-crash mitigation, side alert systems, active night vision and road sign and pedestrian recognition – all of which do about what they sound like they should.
Imagine how different driving could be if motorists were warned before they were about to sideswipe a fellow road warrior, alerted before missing a stop sign or even just able to see what’s ahead at night. Such technologies could prove paramount to safety as humankind steps into an era of even more cars, faster speeds and the repercussions of recent population explosions.
A European study reported that 80% of drivers involved in accidents believed the other party could have done something to prevent the mishap. But what if everybody just stopped blaming each other and became better drivers? What if existing technology was utilized and built upon to reduce the number of traffic fatalities? In the end, determining fault matters more if something can be done about it, such as discovering ways to prevent other collisions.
It can be scary out there on bustling roadways. All one has to do is hop on a busy interstate or horn-chorused city street to realize roads “ain’t no horse trails.” In the chaos that is modern driving, these new “active” safety systems are promising.
Mike Trudel, Freelance Writer.