TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The auto industry has a tendency to lean heavily on technology solutions to improve safety, but changing human behavior must also be part of the solution, the nation’s top safety regulator said Wednesday.
Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency’s long-term goal is to get to zero traffic deaths in the U.S. from the 35,200 killed in 2015.
“In the auto industry, we’re always looking at changing the technology, because changing the human would be really hard,” Rosekind said here today at CAR’s Management Briefing Seminars. “We’re not going to change us. We can change our behavior, but that is really hard.”
Instead, he argued, continually improving safety technology must go hand-in-hand with improving driver behavior to decrease traffic fatalities.
“The technology doesn’t always work, and humans aren’t always perfect, but I think the combination of the two could get us to zero,” Rosekind said.
The administrator’s prepared remarks touched on a number of familiar themes: ending “competition” between automakers and suppliers on safety; speeding democratization of safety technologies across the entire fleet of vehicles; and developing cooperation between regulators and the regulated toward improving vehicle safety.
Rosekind said the relationship between NHTSA and the auto industry must become more proactive.
However, he said the agency still wields powerful tools to bring bad actors into line.
“We have a really big stick. I know where it is and I know how to use it. But I’d rather work with people to do the things” to proactively improve vehicle safety, Rosekind said.
He referenced recent successful collaborations, such as an agreement among 20 global manufacturers to implement automatic emergency braking technologies across almost all vehicles by 2022, as evidence that collaboration is more effective than regulation.
The goal, Rosekind said, is to deploy effective safety technologies -- including autonomous vehicles -- as quickly as possible to reduce traffic fatalities.
“Technology works,” Rosekind declared.
Questions and answers
During questions after his presentation, Rosekind said:
- That sharply increasing traffic fatalities in “all except one region of the country” are largely the result of more vehicle miles being driven as a result of lower fuel prices and a rise in deaths of motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists.
- That there were concerns about calls to prohibit auto registrations nationwide on vehicles that had open recalls because such a prohibition might have an outsized impact on individuals who have the greatest difficulty getting their vehicle in for service. However, the agency is working with states to develop a pilot program that could ensure vehicle owners would at least be informed of open recalls when they registered their vehicles.
- That regulators are “going to have to think” more broadly about how to maintain and update safety equipment on vehicles, including prospective autonomous vehicles, over their service life. “Just like you change your wipers and tires and things, we’re going to have to think about how to [maintain] these things over their service life.”
- That though his term as NHTSA administrator will expire with the change in administration in January, the agency is making sure development and implementation of its long-term plan to increase safety and reduce deaths is embedded with career employees.