Updates on Vehicle Safety

Readers of our blog may remember that back in October we talked about the advances in auto technology that were beginning to impact accident and injury rates. It seems the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also been looking at this. NBC news recently noted that highway deaths have hit a 62 year low and a lot of the credit for driving these numbers down has to go to advances in auto technology.

Stability protection has been getting better and better, first with power brakes and now with ABS (anti-lock braking systems) and for some vehicles electronic stability control that can help prevent rollover accidents. Protection in the cabin has also been improving.  Front airbags are now a requirement for new vehicles and, although side-impact airbags are not required they are being installed in many more new cars. Crash protection through design innovation has been getting steadily better.  Look for fewer deaths and reduced severity of injuries as these developments continue.

These physical changes to the automobile have been augmented by changes in public policy and changes in driver attitude. Safety belt laws are now universal and Washington state policymakers as well as others are going all out against driving under the influence and distracted driving with campaigns of communication and legal action. Each of these factors has contributed something to the reduction in accident and injury rates; taken together they are really driving fatality rates down.

Next on the horizon is “black box” technology; electronic data recording systems that will help analyze those accidents that do occur. This technology is actually in use today with some insurers offering to set rates through “snapshots” of individual driving habits and some automobile companies including black boxes in new cars. The black box itself is simply a short-term data recorder that continuously monitors functions like speed, braking, and whether seatbelts are in use. In cars equipped with black boxes, these data recorders can be used in crash analysis. There is a movement afoot in the federal government to require all new cars in the United States to be equipped with black boxes beginning with the 2014 model year. In addition to being better able to sort out the truth of conflicting statements in an automobile accident, it seems likely that drivers who are aware there is a continuous record of their performance being made may be a little more careful. Obviously, there are privacy concerns anytime a record of activities is being made, so we will have to wait and see if these data recorders actually do become mandated.

It may not be long before your Washington auto insurance rates feel the impact these technologies. Some insurance experts are already predicting steep drops in insurance rates as technology has an increasing impact on accident and injury rates.

There is plenty of information available for the consumer as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes an enormous amount of information on the safety of vehicles that can be very helpful for consumer. The NHTSA website offers a wide array of safety information from crash test data and rankings to insurance related information that reflects comparative loss statistics.  

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