IIHS president: Vehicle technology is not a silver bullet for safety

March 7, 2023

Many advanced technologies can reduce the number of lives lost on U.S. roads, but full or partial automation is not one of them, David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a virtual Capitol Hill briefing March 7.

“We firmly believe in technology for vehicle safety and the potential it has to reduce the tragic toll on our roadways,” Harkey said. “We do not believe in the promise of technology to completely replace drivers and for the vehicle to assume all responsibility for vehicle operations.”

Harkey offered the Institute’s perspective on advance vehicle technologies as part of an expert panel on autonomous vehicles organized for legislators by the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

IIHS research has shown that forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) slash rear-end vehicle-to-vehicle crashes by 27 and 50 percent, respectively, Harkey said. Similarly, AEB systems that can recognize and brake to avoid people reduce pedestrian crashes by 27 percent.

However, crash data have not shown similar benefits for the Level 2 partial automation systems that are currently on the market. On the contrary, IIHS research has shown that at least some designs may be adding to the danger on the road by lulling drivers into complacency behind the wheel.

These systems can control the vehicle’s speed and steering. But they’re not now and may never be able to handle every situation that arises, so the driver must remain focused and ready to take over at all times. Unfortunately, human nature and the designs themselves make that extremely difficult.

“In observational studies, we have found that drivers using these systems tend to drive faster, look away from the road more frequently and for longer periods of time, and engage in more distracting behaviors,” Harkey said.

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