It’s probably just a matter of time before onboard driver assist systems become a regular feature of fleet vehicles. The data gathered so far proves that at least some of the dozen or so technologies can prevent accidents by a significant number. Currently offered by car and truck makers and independent manufacturers for between $1,000 and $2,000, the technology is also likely to be more affordable as it becomes more popular.
Beyond the question of its affordability, is the prospect that federal law may require driver assist technology. In September 2015, the National Traffic Safety Board recommended again that forward collision avoidance systems become standard equipment on all new passenger and commercial vehicles. It’s estimated that the equipment has the potential to prevent or reduce the severity of 80 percent of all rear-end collisions, the most common kind of accident. Meanwhile, ten auto manufacturers announced plans in the same month to offer—eventually—the systems as standard equipment in all the car, truck, and SUV models available for sale.
There’s a risk, however, that interest in these systems may cause fleets to ignore another kind of accident prevention technology—one already proven to reduce fleet accident rates by as much as 35 percent, prevent accidents that driver assist systems can’t, and provide a unique source of extra protection against accident liability.
I’m referring to online information technology that has been adapted to support fleet driver safety and risk management applications and has been available for more than a decade. Rather than thinking of these as an alternative to onboard systems, however, CEI believes they are complementary and should be deployed as a foundational tool in conjunction with the best onboard systems to arrive at the best-in-class fleet safety programs of the near-term future.
DRIVER ASSIST SYSTEMS
As 2015 came to a close, the consensus seemed to be that forward crash avoidance systems with automated braking were the most effective at preventing accidents and making those that still occur less severe. It’s a good example to illustrate the strengths and limitations of driver assist technology.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is one of the world leaders in evaluating onboard crash prevention systems.
IIHS explains on its website that front crash prevention systems use “various types of sensors, such as cameras, radar, or laser to detect when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it. Most systems issue a warning and precharge the brakes to maximize the effect if the driver responds by braking. Many systems automatically brake the vehicle if the driver doesn’t respond. In some cases, automatic braking is activated without a warning.”
As of December 2015, IIHS posted on its website that, “front crash prevention is reducing crashes, analyses of insurance claims show.” More specifically, the website posts data on the front crash systems with automatic braking—offered by several makers—and a handful of their models equipped with front crash systems. Sedans and SUVs equipped with one automaker’s system, which features automated braking, generated 15 to 16 percent fewer liability property damage and injury claims from 2010 through 2012 compared to similar vehicles without comparable technology. It also found 14 percent fewer liability property damage claims for similarly equipped cars from two luxury vehicle makers.
IIHS commented on data from its study of cars and SUVs from a fourth, whose front crash systems didn’t feature automated braking, but were also equipped with lane departure warning. It found they experienced a 10 percent reduction in property damage claims.
WHERE THE GAPS ARE
The IIHS statistics reveal one limitation of forward crash prevention systems: The vast majority of accidents still occur. Another limitation is that some systems aren’t designed to work at highway speeds. For example: One car maker points out that its forward crash prevention system delivers its benefits at a maximum speed of 18.6 mph, while another warns that its pre-collision braking feature doesn’t work when the speed difference from a vehicle ahead is less than 31.1 mph or when approaching a pedestrian at less than 21.8 mph.
Safety experts have voiced additional concerns over the effectiveness of forward crash prevention systems. These include how well they work on slippery surfaces; the fact that many systems can be disabled by drivers; and that the systems aren’t as effective when a driver is impaired by drugs, alcohol, and fatigue, or is distracted or intent on driving aggressively.
The most obvious shortcoming of driver assist systems, however, is that they are designed to react to errors that drivers make or allow to happen. Even when they work, they aren’t designed to help drivers to change their behavior or help fleets identify high-risk drivers and avoid liability exposure based on negligent entrustment, allowing dangerous drivers to be on the road.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mr. Kinniry is senior director of strategic services at The CEI Group, Inc., a fleet driver management company that provides technology-enhanced accident prevention and accident management to automotive fleets. For more information, visit ceinetwork.com.