DETROIT – It’s not a planned flight to Florida that particularly worries Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council. The impending cab ride to the airport is of greater concern to her.
Transportation statistics make her feel that way. She notes the U.S. hasn’t had a commercial plane crash in years. But American traffic accidents claimed about 38,000 lives in 2015. That’s an 8% increase over 2014, attributed in part to an improved economy, because higher employment means more people driving to work.
“Car crashes remain a public health hazard, even though the causes have been understood for decades,” Hersman tells an Automotive Press Assn. gathering here.
It’s often the same old stories. Drivers get tired, over compensate, under compensate, miscalculate distances, get distracted and get drunk. Alcohol-related accidents rack up 30% of traffic deaths.
And although multiple car crashes draw more attention, the leading cause of traffic fatalities involves a single vehicle departing a lane, Hersman says.
“Ninety-five percent of car crashes involve driver error,” says University of Iowa professor Daniel McGehee.
The two appear together as co-presenters to tout a new National Safety Council driver-education initiative called MyCarDoesWhat. It is intended to better familiarize people with the safety technological features on modern vehicles.
The idea is that adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning systems and the like make car occupants safer, but it helps the cause if motorists know about those technologies and how they work.
McGehee cites as an example antilock brake systems that provide stability control in emergency stopping situations. ABS has been on passenger vehicles for about 20 years now. Still, many drivers are startled by the grinding noise and pulsations that occur when hard braking activates the system.
“Many people who have never experienced ABS are jolted when it kicks in the first time,” he tells WardsAuto. “It can confuse them. The solution is to know about it beforehand. The benefits of technologies are greater when people understand them.”
It’s important for people both to know of safety technology’s advantages and limitations, Hersman adds. “HMI (human-machine interaction) is important. As long as there’s a driver behind the wheel, we have to think about how technology interacts with that person.”
Will the approaching era of self-driving vehicles make such interaction a future non-issue?
“We’re in a transition period,” McGehee says. “It will be a long time before we see fully automated vehicles.” Many technology features of today “are stair steps to autonomous vehicles,” Hersman says.
The National Safety Council is getting the MyCarDoesWhat word out through various communication channels. Those include print ads, videos and social media. There’s also a game app because “some people learn better by doing something,” Hersman says.
The Fitzgerald Auto Mall, a dealer group based in Bethesda, MD, has agreed to include campaign information online and at its stores.
When people seek more information about vehicle safety technology, 57% turn to Google, 48% contact their dealership, 52% consult with a local mechanic and 49% get out the owner’s manual, according to a National Safety Council survey.
“The owner’s manual contains an incredible amount of helpful information,” Hersman says. “The challenge is to get people to read it and to get past some of the jargon.”
Much of the council’s driver-education campaign is funded by a government grant drawn from part of the $1.2 billion Toyota paid in fines in 2014 for failing to report braking problems with some of its vehicles.
In her Detroit presentation, Hersman shows a slide of damage to a rear-ended car. It bears the personalized license plate “Be Safer.” The car is hers. Her husband was driving it when another motorist rear-ended it. The accident occurred in front of a fire station, so it didn’t take long for paramedics to get to the collision scene. “Everyone was OK,” she says.