DETROIT - After a three-year field study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is recommending further investigation of a national automated collision notification system.
Although commercial systems are being introduced, a public network could save lives and reduce disabilities from traffic accidents by shortening response time of emergency rescue services, said Joseph Kanianthra, director of NHTSA's Office of Vehicle Safety Research.
A field study just completed in western New York resulted in just such an improvement, according to a presentation at Convergence 2000 in October in Detroit.
During the test period - July 1997 through August 2000 - all crash notifications occurred within two minutes, compared with a regional average of 7.5 minutes, Kanianthra said.
That time is critical to saving lives. In 1998, 35 percent of light-vehicle fatalities occurred within 10 minutes of the crash; 43 percent within 30 minutes; and 56 percent within 60 minutes, NHTSA data show.
NHTSA's $5 million experiment ($1 million from private sources) involved a variety of public safety and emergency rescue organizations, as well as hospitals and a cellular telephone service provider.
By April 2000, accelerometers, cellular communications equipment and global positioning system devices had been installed on 850 volunteer vehicles.
In an accident, that equipment would automatically dispatch vehicle location and crash characteristics - velocity change, direction of force and rollover occurrence, for instance - to public safety personnel. A voice connection to passengers would then be established.
Though the data sample from the field test ended up being too small to draw scientific conclusions, the automated collision notification system worked as expected, Kanianthra said. Rescue officials were successfully notified in 14 of 19 crashes, a success rate of 74 percent.
Failures resulted from such reasons as insufficient cellular phone coverage at the crash site and damage to system equipment during the crash.
Those failures are a concern in widespread deployment of crash notification systems, he said. Other challenges involve cost, liability and privacy issues and the need for a dedicated infrastructure beyond 911.
Standardizing communications protocols between a public system and a commercial system also must happen.
Since NHTSA's field test began, commercial services such as General Motors' OnStar have arrived on the market.
But in their current form, commercial solutions aren't the ideal solution, Kanianthra said. They typically make notifications based on airbag deployment, limiting the type of crashes that can be detected.
He said the signal also goes to a private response center first, possibly delaying notification of rescue services.