WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board Wednesday released its 2013 Most Wanted List, with six of the 10 issues focusing on highway travel — including what it called “the number one killer on the list — substance-impaired driving,” and for the first time, a call for mandated motor vehicle collision avoidance technologies.
The U.S. government should require automakers to make the latest collision prevention technologies standard equipment on all new cars and trucks, a move that could reduce fatal highway accidents by more than half, according to the federal accident investigators.
The Obama administration "should establish performance standards where still needed and mandate that these technologies be included as standard equipment in cars and commercial vehicles alike," the board said in a statement. "With such promising potential to improve highway safety, this technology should be robustly deployed throughout the passenger and commercial fleets."
The technologies include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and electronic stability control. They are available on some higher-end model cars and trucks and of course, on some Class 8 heavy-duty trucks.
The National Transportation Safety Board said they be should required on all vehicles, despite the auto industry's concern that doing so would add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new vehicle.
Electronic stability control, which automatically applies brakes to individual wheels to restore control, is already required for new passenger vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds (4,535 kilograms). But large pickup trucks, 15-passenger vans and commercial trucks that exceed that weight aren't included in the requirement.
The board's recommendation also includes tire-pressure monitoring systems and speed-limiting technology for commercial trucks.
Such technologies can prevent accidents that involve running off the road, rear-ending another vehicle and lane-change maneuvers, the NTSB said. Those types of accidents account for 60 percent of fatal highway accidents. There were more than 32,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. last year.
Lane departure warnings alert drivers when a vehicle wanders into another lane without signaling. Adaptive cruise control uses sensors to read traffic conditions and modulate the throttle and brakes to keep the car a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it. Forward collision warning systems monitor the roadway in front of the car and warn the driver of an impending collision. Some forward-collision systems will apply the brakes if the driver doesn't take action to avoid an imminent collision. Similarly, automatic braking applies brakes to avoid an impending collision with another vehicle, person or obstacle.
The board included the recommendation as part of its annual list of "10 most wanted" safety improvements. Some of the technologies were on the list in 2008, and the board previously has made piecemeal recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it set performance standards for some of the technologies or require manufacturers include them in some vehicles.
But this is the first time the board is telling regulators and automakers that this new generation of technologies should be required on all vehicles, safety advocates said.
"What they are recommending is a safety system for cars where you have a multitude of things that cooperate together to dramatically improve safety in a vehicle," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group.
The recommendation got a chilly reception from automakers, which said it could drive up the cost of a new car.
Systems that warn drivers of an impending collision but don't automatically brake cost about $1,000 to $3,000 per vehicle depending on the features, according government estimates cited by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Systems that both warn the driver of an impending collision and apply the brakes if the driver doesn't act first, cost about $3,500, the alliance said.
"Automakers see great promise from their driver-assist technologies, and we are urging consumers to check them out, but the choice to purchase one or more belongs to consumers," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the alliance.
"In this still-fragile economy, maintaining affordability of new vehicles remains a concern," she said. "Today, the average price of a new vehicle is $30,000, more than half the median income in the U.S."
If the safety technologies were standard on all vehicles, their cost per vehicle would come down, safety advocates said.
"Some of this technology can be done for literally just a few dollars," said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt. "I don't think we're talking about adding thousands of dollars to a car."
That's because many of the safety features rely on the same electronic sensors and computers.
"While it sounds like a lot of items, basically you are taking advantage of the sophisticated electronics in all modern automobiles," Ditlow said. "Why limit major safety improvements to a few primarily luxury models? The entire public deserves them."
This year's most-wanted list also includes a recommendation that states and regulators ban nonessential use of cellphones and other distracting portable electronic devices by operators across all modes of transportation — cars and trucks, planes, trains and vessels.
The board said it has investigated numerous accidents and incidents in which operators were so engrossed in their devices that they lost awareness of their situation. As part of the recommendation, the board urged device manufacturers to perfect technology that disables cellphones and other devices when they are within reach of an operator while the car, truck, plane, train or vessel is in operation.
Distraction was the cause of multiple accidents investigated by the agency in recent years, and its deadly effects will only continue to grow as a national safety threat, stated an NTSB news release.
"Transportation is safer than ever, but with 35,000 annual fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries, we can, and must, do better," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The Most Wanted List is a roadmap to improving safety for all of our nation's travelers."
There are six new issue areas: distraction; fire safety; infrastructure integrity; pipeline safety; positive train control; and motor vehicle collision avoidance technologies.
"We're releasing the list now so it is available to policymakers at the state and federal levels as well as to industry groups as they craft their priorities for 2013," Hersman said. "We want to highlight the results of our investigations and ensure that safety has a seat at the table when decisions are made."
The American Trucking Associations applauded the NTSB for releasing its latest Most Wanted List and expressed its “shared interest in advancing several items on the list,” stated an ATA news release.
“The NTSB Most Wanted List identifies a number of areas where the Board and ATA have a shared interest in improving highway safety,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves.
Graves said NTSB’s endorsement of active safety technologies like lane departure warning systems, stability control, forward collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control were “something ATA has voiced support of for years and a topic we hope lawmakers and regulators address soon.”
And he specifically cited NTSB’s identification of the dangers of impaired and distracted driving, the need to repair and improve the nation’s infrastructure and the benefits of active safety technologies as issues important to the trucking industry.
“ATA has long been an advocate of reducing impaired and distracted driving on our highways,” he said. “Truck drivers are already subject to ATA-supported bans on texting and hand-held cell phone use, but ATA firmly believes these bans should be extended to drivers of all vehicles. Similarly, our industry is a leader in combating impaired driving, as seen in our early advocacy of mandatory drug and alcohol testing and remarkably low violation rates, particularly when compared to the rest of the motoring public. But we can always do better.
“Two areas where we can do better in fighting impaired driving are through the use of hair testing of regulated drivers to detect illegal drug use and in the creation of a clearinghouse to better track drivers’ drug and alcohol test results,” he said.
Graves also echoed the NTSB’s call for the need to do more to ensure the nation’s infrastructure is safe and efficient.
“Even though we just saw a highway bill signed into law, it was woefully underfunded and will do little to improve our infrastructure. Well-built and maintained roads are key to improving safety,” he said.
The NTSB's 2013 Most Wanted List of transportation priorities includes:
• Improve safety of airport surface operations
• Preserve the integrity of transportation infrastructure
• Enhance pipeline safety
• Implement positive train control systems
• Eliminate substance-impaired driving
• Improve the safety of bus operations
• Eliminate distraction in transportation
• Improve fire safety in transportation
• Improve general aviation safety, and
• Mandate motor vehicle collision avoidance technologies.
Associated Press sources contributed to this report.
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