In his first visit to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), David Strickland, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), claimed that “we are on the precipice of being able to say that cars can’t crash.”
Strickland, who delivered the honorary lecture for the G. Sadler Bridges Conference Room dedication June 17, detailed current NHTSA research in Ann Arbor, Mich., involving 3,000 connected vehicles equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication devices. The pilot program will determine if these in-vehicle technologies can improve safety by helping drivers avoid crashes.
“Vehicle-to-vehicle communications and intelligent transportation is our way forward,” Strickland said, calling it NHTSA’s new North Star. “How to keep a crash from ever happening in the first place: that is our future. When fully implemented, vehicle-to-vehicle communications technologies can address up to 80-percent of crash scenarios. That is huge.” Strickland said connected vehicles have the potential for reducing the number of annual crash deaths from 34,000 to 5,000.
However, he made it clear that numerous policy issues would have to be settled before implementing these technologies. Drivers could read while the car drives for them, he noted, but then pointed out a dangerous scenario involving how someone could be injured when their iPad gets in the way of a deploying air bag. He also mentioned personal privacy concerns that in-vehicle technologies raise. Some could be put off by sharing their location and destination information with a central information system. “The safety benefit is huge, but this technology means nothing if people don’t want to buy it,” Strickland pointed out. “The privacy question is essential and we have to get that right.”
Aside from semi- and fully autonomous vehicles of the future, Strickland discussed other safety concerns and reminded the crowd that half of all traffic fatalities were not wearing a safety belt. He also noted that impaired driving still accounts for one-third of all fatalities. Lastly, he urged the bi-partisan financial support of transportation projects going forward.
“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican road. A road is a road and we all need them,” Strickland stated. “The only way we can ensure our continued economic viability and growth is to have a transportation system that meets the needs of our economic engine.”
Strickland was in College Station to give the honorary lecture for the G. Sadler Bridges Conference Room dedication ceremony. Bridges, a long-time leader at TTI, was an early pioneer of in-vehicle technologies. He died in 2008. Strickland also met with TTI leadership to discuss transportation safety issues and research needs.