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Collision Tech Praised, More Work Needed to Curb Driver Distraction

Federal safety agencies are praising car makers for their progress in developing accident avoidance technologies, though more work is needed to limit distraction for drivers while behind the wheel.

At the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, federal agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are praising auto makers for their advancements in accident avoidance technologies, and calling for more innovation to limit driver distraction. As technologies like frontal collision and lane departure warnings have made significant progress in vehicle safety, there are still growing distractions on board pulling a driver’s attention away from the road ahead, counteracting added safety benefits.

Amidst their introduction of greater and more comprehensive safety technologies, car makers are also releasing increasingly complex in-car systems that can allow drivers to purchase movie tickets, surf the web, and even update their social media accounts. "I think manufacturers really have to strike a balance in the future behind what the consumer demands are and what the safety needs are," says Debbie Hersman, chair of the NTSB. "They have to bring the two of those things together in a way that sells cars and saves lives… I think there is a tremendous desire on the part of our population here in the United States to remain connected. We are still struggling with the best way to figure how to remain connected safely."

Among the proposed improvements, the NTSB is pushing for a holistic ban on all cellphone usage while driving, even hands-free devices and syncing technology that allows drivers to use their phones through in-car entertainment systems. To date however, no states have followed through with the proposed ban. From car makers themselves, the NTSB and NHTSA are calling for improved systems that do not require drivers to take their hands off of the wheel, or their eyes off of the road. Examples of these kinds of systems are already in development and on the market today, such as voice command systems and gesture control systems, though more refinement is needed to reduce the attention needed to operate them.

Federal regulators are also calling for mandates standardizing these new crash avoidance technologies on all new cars, giving every driver the opportunity to benefit from them. "The voluntary efforts that (automakers) have taken on safety — particularly on collision avoidance — are going to pay dividends for decades into the future," says Hersman. "They are moving in the right direction. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that safety isn't just for those who can afford it." In November of 2012, a number of regulations were introduced calling for systems like adaptive cruise control and advanced self-braking systems to be installed on all new cars.

Car makers themselves are less enthusiastic about proposed regulations, citing a substantial increase in production costs which would ultimately translate into high prices for potential car buyers. Instead, offering these advanced accident avoidance technologies as optional extras would give full access to their increased safety benefits without seeing a rise in production costs across the board. Federal regulators have countered these concerns by noting that the potential for saving lives would be worth the cost of investment.

Only the US Transportation Department has the authority to enact any of these proposed regulations, having previously made features like seat belts, air bags, electronic stability control systems, and strengthened roofs standard on all cars sold in the country. Even as car makers and the NTSB continue to argue the pros and cons of mandatory accident avoidance technologies, neither will have the final say in the matter. Both groups are hopeful however, that a solution can be reached, giving access to advanced safety technology to all drivers while limiting distractions that lead to damaging accidents calling for complicated legal battles, litigation, car accident lawyersFree Reprint Articles, and insurance claims.

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