Vehicle Technology:  False Sense of Security?

Greg Brannon, Director Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations

Today, nearly every new vehicle comes equipped with at least one vehicle safety system like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance. These systems are designed to improve the driving experience while providing additional safety measures to lessen the severity or even prevent a crash. While vehicle technology continues to rapidly change, the safety standards used to rate the crashworthiness of these vehicles have not caught up.

The New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), overseen by NHTSA, evaluates vehicles to determine how well they perform in frontal, side and rollover crashes. Each vehicle is then assigned a “star” rating based on how well they do with five stars being the highest. These evaluations are made public so that consumers can reference the information when shopping for a vehicle. The NCAP has not been updated since 2011 and therefore, many new vehicle technologies are not included as part of the rating.

In April, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation – a group comprised of automakers and other industry leaders – released its recommendations for NHTSA that would help modernize the NCAP. The plan, known as the “Plan to Advance Safety at the Speed of Innovation,” includes both long-term and near-term solutions that will bring NCAP into the 21st century and greatly improve the accuracy of the star rating program.

AAA, through its own research, has found that many of these advanced driver assistance systems don’t always work as intended. As a result, we recognize the importance of having standards in place that match the level of innovation being designed and deployed on our roads. We commend and support the Alliance’s efforts and urge NHTSA to strongly consider implementing the proposed plan. The advancement of vehicle technology will not slow down anytime soon and it is imperative that safety standards catch up. Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards take too long to modernize, so the proposal to move NCAP forward faster is the right one in this environment. In addition, these can be harmonized with European NCAP testing standards, thus reducing the burden on automakers to design for different tests. Consumers rely on and trust this information, so it is critically important for it to be accurate and include testing of all systems.

AAA is an advocate for safe mobility and we commend any efforts within the industry that work towards making the roads safer for everyone.