A friend told me that a high school classmate of hers died in a traffic accident this week. She heard he was a passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended. Chances are, someone was following too closely, and if so, the accident was avoidable. Perhaps the driver was distracted, or in too much of a hurry.
It’s tragic for the victim and his family, but otherwise a traffic fatality hardly registers a blip on the public radar screen. It’s not that we don’t care that upwards of 40,000 people are killed on U.S. roads each year; it’s more that we cannot grasp the enormity of that many deaths. Traffic fatalities typically happen one or two at a time, they happen everywhere, and they seem to happen all the time. They are accepted as just part of life, though obviously they are not.
Technology is ready to prevent the kind of accident that claimed a life – lives – this week. It’s technology that works – I’ve seen it demonstrated more than once – but it’s available on just a tiny fraction of cars. What if every car had it? What if every new car buyer wanted it? And why doesn’t every car buyer want adaptive cruise control with automatic braking? I can think of at least three reasons.
One is lack of awareness. Since the prevailing wisdom is that safety doesn’t sell, and automakers don’t want to focus on the dangers inherent in driving, active safety isn’t talked about very much. Number two, active safety adds to the cost of a car, and U.S. buyers, at least, are budget-minded. The third reason is that buyers don’t think they need active safety technology, or at least don’t want to admit that they need it.
Perhaps someday the government will mandate the use of active safety technology, but that doesn’t seem likely in today’s political climate. In the meantime, can we make active safety more visible, stir up more interest, and pick up the pace of market acceptance? What will it take?