AAA study found that advanced driver assistance systems could prevent 250,000 deaths

Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved and tens of millions of accidents prevented thanks to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning. That’s according to a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Traffic Safety Foundation and the University of North Carolina.

The potential benefits of these driver aids appear surprisingly effective based on the projected numbers alone. According to the report, current ADAS technologies could prevent approximately 14 million injuries and 37 million accidents over a 30-year period, spanning from 2021 to 2050.

Additionally, the report estimates that ADAS will prevent about 250,000 deaths over the next 30 years. In total, the AAA study indicates, this represents 16% of the injury crashes and 22% of all deaths that would occur on American roads without these technologies during the same 30-year period.

“The results of this latest study of the AAA Foundation’s work in emerging technologies indicate that driver assistance systems have the potential to transform road safety,” said Dr. David Yang, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation. Specific vehicle safety technologies considered include automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.

These are all active driver aids, meaning they take over some degree of steering or braking when activated. As one baseline for the forecast, the study also assumed that the number of future accidents would be similar to accident levels from 2017 to 2019, and then took into account annual increases due to increased vehicle travel.

While advanced driver assistance systems undoubtedly help prevent, or at least reduce, the severity of an accident in many situations, there are serious hurdles when it comes to consumer acceptance and understanding of these systems. In emailed responses to Edmonds’ inquiry about the study, Robert Sinclair of AAA Northeast addressed these challenges.

“There is a steep learning curve in understanding the technologies and what they can and cannot do. Ultimately, it is up to the vehicle owner to figure out how they work, but the dealer should do everything they can to help drivers master the operation of advanced driver assistance systems.”

Sinclair also pointed out something as seemingly innocuous as the co-driver’s name can lead to confusion. “Some marketing technology names can mislead drivers into believing that autonomous driving is possible. This is not the case, and AAA has urged manufacturers to come up with some standardization of nomenclature and operation of the technology to improve public understanding.”

Although Sinclair did not point to a specific safety system that was misnamed, one example of safety technology that has sparked controversy along these lines is Tesla’s Automated Driving Assistant. Critics have argued that the “autopilot” designation suggests that the system is hands-free and capable of operating in all driving situations without any human intervention.

“None of the DAV technologies are 100 percent effective, but they do help the driver in a range of situations,” Sinclair added. However, there is work to be done regarding technological improvement. He pointed to two AAA studies in which current driver aids proved surprisingly ineffective at preventing accidents. “Pedestrian detection at night is perhaps most deficient when cameras are unable to ‘see’ pedestrians due to low lighting.”

In a study conducted by AAA in 2019 regarding the effectiveness of automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection, the results discovered that the degree of accident prevention was woefully inadequate. Testing was conducted on a closed track using simulated pedestrian targets and with four mid-size sedans. In one test, the collision occurred 89% of the time in a scenario where a “child” pulled from between two parked cars and moved in front of a car traveling at 20 mph. Worse still, during night tests, the pedestrian detection failure rate was 100% – and none of the vehicles reacted to simulated adult pedestrians.

AAA also recently found similar deficiencies in the effectiveness of automatic emergency braking (AEB) at high speeds. Four 2022 model year vehicles were used for testing: a Chevy Equinox LT with Chevy Safety Assist, a Ford Explorer On collision. Toyota is safety conscious.

At 30 mph, these AEB-equipped vehicles avoided a rear-end collision with a stationary vehicle/obstacle in 17 of 20 tests. This is impressive, and even the three “failures” had an upside as their impact speed was reduced by 86% on average.

But when the test speed was raised to 40 mph, AAA found that AEB prevented an accident in only six of 20 tests. The average impact velocity in the 14 failures was reduced by at least 62%. Unfortunately, results worsened during tests that used simulated target vehicles, such as T-shaped collisions and left turns in front of oncoming vehicles. The failure rate again was 100%.

“The full safety benefits of advanced driver assistance systems will not be realized unless they are fully understood by the consumer, work properly and are widely adopted,” Sinclair explained. “Although ADAS will save hundreds of thousands of lives over time, it is unfortunate that many more will die in crashes. Bad drivers will continue to drink, drive, run red lights, speed, and not wear seat belts. While advanced driver assistance systems are useful In preventing accidents, however, there is no substitute for a well-trained, responsible and sober driver to prevent accidents and save lives.

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