TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Despite major safety-technology advancements in recent years, there were 34,247 U.S. traffic fatalities in 2017.
The better-than-bad news is the number of fatalities is trending down. So are fatalities per miles driven.
Still, “34,247 fatalities is 34,247 too many,” says Paul Ajegba, director-Department of Transportation for the State of Michigan, which had 905 traffic fatalities last year.
Ajegba is among panelists at a CAR Management Briefing Seminars session here on current and future technology designed to make vehicles safer.
He and other panelists, including Wayne Powell (below, left), vice president-electronic systems division for Toyota North America R&D, foresees a new age of zero traffic fatalities, although Ajegba acknowledges, “We may not get there soon.”
Current technology on vehicles designed to alleviate collisions includes automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warnings that use sensors and cameras, which fall under the title of advanced driver-assistance systems or ADAS.
ADAS is the first step toward future vehicles that are expected to be fully autonomous, or self-driving.
“The reality of our autonomous-vehicle work excites me,” says Powell. Zero traffic deaths is an audacious goal that can be accomplished.”
The industry has made great safety strides in recent years, says Steve Gehring, vice president-vehicle safety and connected automation for Global Automakers, an industry trade group.
“If you get in a crash today, you want to be in a modern vehicle,” he says. “The industry should take credit for improvements that not only increase the chances of surviving an accident but often avoid one in the first place.”
Still, there’s that relatively high national traffic fatality rate. “We have the safest fleet that we’ve ever had in this country, but we’re not making as much progress (on reducing traffic deaths) as we would like,” Gehring says.
Worldwide, the traffic-related death rate of more than 1 million is horrific and Gehring expects autonomous vehicles of tomorrow “will drive down those numbers, too.” He also would like to see beefed-up drunken driving laws.
Ajegba recalls recently meeting with Australian governmental counterparts who told him of stricter anti-drunk driving laws there that include lowering the legally intoxicated blood-alcohol level to 0.05% and giving law-enforcement officers the power to randomly stop drivers to check their sobriety.