There has been consternation recently over how long it will take to solve the puzzle of full vehicle automation. But do not overlook how technologies are bridging the gap until that far-off day and preventing crashes and saving lives — now.
A pair of reports last week show how two increasingly common safety technologies can make a difference.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the rear-end crash rate of pickups equipped with automatic emergency braking was 43 percent lower than those without it. Given that modern full-size pickups have curb weights that tip the scales at 2 or even 3 tons, plus the weight of passengers, cargo and maybe a trailer, they can do extensive and deadly damage in a collision with other vehicles and pedestrians. That's a lot of tonnage to stop, and the braking tech can mitigate some of the damage from human error — or prevent it.
The second study, a collaborative effort between government and automakers, found that rear crashes resulting in injury were reduced by 53 percent when vehicles had forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. With just forward-collision warning, that rate fell to 16 percent.
The good news is there is evidence that these advanced driver-assistance systems are helping the safety cause. However, they are not perfect. Forward-collision systems have been known to fail at night or in low-light conditions, for example, and it is unclear how many casualties have occurred when advanced driver-assist tech was engaged.
NHTSA, for its part, has been working to get to the bottom of this. Last week, the safety agency updated the data it has been collecting on advanced driver-assist related crashes. Two fatal crashes involving Tesla Model 3 sedans were reported Sept. 16 to Oct. 15, bringing the total to 18 fatal crashes involving vehicles equipped with the systems since NHTSA ordered automakers, suppliers and tech companies to disclose crash data last year.