By on May 26, 2011

These two graphs preface NHTSA’s recent Vehicle Safety and Fuel Economy Rulemaking and Research Priority Plan [PDF] for the 2011-2013 period.

What does the data tell you? What’s a safety regulator to do? Oh, and you might want to look at this graph before you answer…

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31 Comments on “Take The Auto Safety Rorschach Test!...”


  • avatar
    PVDave

    The answer is clear. Eliminate the greatest threat (head on collisions with other motor vehicles) by installing Jersey barriers down the center of every two way street in the country.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      No, because that would increase Collision with Fixed Object.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      Driving is pretty safe these days. 2010 had fewer traffic fatalities than over 50 years ago — not per passenger mile, but total fatalities. It’s amazing considering we have doubled our population and driving. Car safety, EMT, ER, cell phones (used to call 911) and flight for life helicopters all helped. We may be able to reduce fatalities further, but at what cost? $100,000 per death? With one fatality per 100,000,000 passenger miles driven you would have to drive 15,000 miles per year for 30,000 years to die in a car wreck. Yes, it makes headline news, but it does not happen all that often. Driving too dangerous? You would have to fly commercial airlines 100,000+ years to die in a plane crash.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        cell phones probably killed more people than they saved lives…. I know, ironic… but before cell phones there was no texting, surfing the internet etc. while driving.

        i don’t have proof or numbers because most people in an accident while texting, likely hide the phone before cops arrive.

      • 0 avatar
        TexasAg03

        HerrKaLeun,

        Bad drivers can be distracted by anything, whether cell phone, hamburger, radio, or children. Even if we assume that cell phones cause tons of deaths, that makes the statistics even more impressive.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        cell phones probably killed more people than they saved lives…

        If that were the case wouldn’t we see a rise in fatalities as cell phones proliferated?

  • avatar

    I’m gonna go with…

    Ban cell phone use from the driver’s seat.
    Ban flash photography from the roadside. (It’s distracting!)
    Implement traffic fines as a percentage of gross pay.

    • 0 avatar
      TexasAg03

      How about just enforcing current law that says you cannot operate a vehicle in an unsafe manner.

      Also, if traffic fines are a percentage of gross pay, what about people who don’t work? What about those on government assistance?

      • 0 avatar

        Because “unsafe manner” is open to debate. The state has to prove the operator presented a safety risk to society.

        “It shall be illegal to operate any device from the driver’s seat which is not permanently installed in the vehicle.” The state has to prove the operator was operating a portable device from the driver seat. Bit more cut-n-dry.

        As for people who don’t work or are on government assistance? Well, shit. I dunno. ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Maybe next time they’ll think about paying attention before they go lolly-gagging about.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Implement traffic fines as a percentage of gross pay.

      Why excessively penalize the successful?

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      “Implement traffic fines as a percentage of gross pay.”

      Presumably, if you’re below the poverty line, failure to yield or any other moving violation should be a capital crime carrying the death penalty?

    • 0 avatar
      EyeMWing

      Traffic fines as a percentage of gross pay… Hey guys, what’s any-percent of nothing?

      BRB, quitting job and making new life as street racer.

      … You can make money doing that, right? The movies say so.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I know! Demand tightening rollover requirements, mandate stability control, and require back-up cameras!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      The 13% Non-Collision slice is probably roll-over. So improving roll-over survivability (better roof, airbags and even more seat-belt use are the tools for achieving this.)

      Stability control would have an effect on reducing the overall size of the pie; the data, as presented here, doesn’t illustrate it, but a significant portion of each category is due, in part, to initial loss-of-control.

      And I hate seeing that largely non-informative graph showing decline in fatalities. It only tells a very limited part of the story and, as such, is misleading when taken in isolation.

    • 0 avatar
      carsinamerica

      Cars are getting taller, and rear visibility is getting worse. As the cost of reversing-camera technology drops, why not proliferate it?

      As for stability control, it helps a lot. I don’t deny that better driver training is important, but guess what? Sometimes the unexpected happens. Sometimes you hit black ice at night. Sometimes you have to swerve on very short notice and the car starts to go tail-first. The computer and sensors in ESC can react faster than any human alive, and direct braking to specific wheels, which pressing the brake pedal cannot do. On the track, turn it off and drift if you want. On the road, for most people, it is a benefit. Watch the video demonstration Tiff Needell did of traction and stability control. He’s a better driver, I would suspect, than you and I combined, but he still thinks they’re beneficial systems. It’s possible to recover from bad situations without such aids, but they make it easier.

  • avatar
    MoppyMop

    Light trucks are about twice as likely to roll over than cars. Imagine that.

    Also, anybody catch this, near the bottom of the text?

    Pedal Placement
    Description: Examine pedal placement and spacing and examine minimum clearances for foot pedals with respect to other pedals, the vehicle, floor, and any other potential obstructions. The agency will assess the research data and potential countermeasures and decide on next steps.
    Next Milestone: Agency decision in 2013

    Like most of the other proposals in there, this one will probably end up in analysis-paralysis limbo, but if it ever comes to pass, manual drivers will not be pleased.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      I thought NHTSA took care of that so we’d never have issues with “runaway acceleration” like those damn furriner Awdees?

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      I wear size 13.5-14 shoes, and I was shocked at how many cars I have sat in over the last couple years where I couldn’t really get my right foot to a comfortable position without touching both brake and accelerator pedals! These weren’t little cars! I never had any problems driving anything 2 years ago. I don’t know what’s going on.

  • avatar
    photog02

    I looks like they are taking FARS/GES data and trying to decide where to direct their efforts. FARS/GES data are not without their limitations and interpreting it can be difficult. But it says what it says. So forward collision warning systems and whatever they are trying to call the Intellidrive program nowadays will be the future. Here’s to the magic self-driving car!

  • avatar
    jmo

    Wow – am surprised to see that you’re more likely to die in a multi-vehicle crash in a light truck. I would have thought you’d be less likely to die in a multi vehicle crash but far more likely to die in a rollover.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Light trucks are the “vehicles INVOLVED in fatal [head on] crashes” a larger percentage of the time but not necessarily the vehicle where the fatality takes place. i.e.: if a light truck runs over a car head-on and kills the occupants of the car, both the light truck and the car score 1 point for being involved in a fatal head-on.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Some old pickups performed worse in crash tests than cars; their frames made it harder to design crumple zones outside of the cabin. And driving over a lower vehicle is a good way to trigger a rollover.

      But the IIHS Death Rate studies have better information on this sort of thing.

  • avatar

    These graphs are not all that enlightening because in both cases the percentages have to add up to 100. That doesn’t tell us which type of vehicle is the bigger killer. Assuming light trucks are still the bigger killer, they should at least be considerably more expensive to insure.

    And yes, the death rates have declined steadily for death rates, but that doesn’t mean they can’t decline more.

    And what SunnyvaleCA said just above my post

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    If you graph average engine horsepower over the same period as the average fatalities per 100m miles graph, I think you’ll find there is a clear inverse relationship between the engine horsepower of the average car on the road and fatalities. Therefore the logical approach is to legislate a doubling of engine horsepower by, let’s say 2025. Sure the more powerful motors will add some additional cost to the price of a car, but if that’s what it takes to keep the roads safe, then I’m willing to do my part.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      If you plot from 1990 to 2010, when the hp *did* double, the death rate didn’t cut in half.

      Or did it?

      It’s really hard to tell.

    • 0 avatar
      Dekinorman

      How about gov’t subsidies to increase the power of my car? Cash for blowers. That’s a handout we can all get behind, right?
      Nice to see from this graph that I’m pretty safe on my bicycle riding to work. Only 630 deaths compared to almost 29,000 for motorized vehicles. I’ll try to remember that the next time a school bus tries to run me off an overpass. Deliberately. While full of kids.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Government agency out looking for problems to solve. What could possibly go wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      carsinamerica

      Probably something along the lines of the horrible things that happened when the EPA began regulating air and water quality standards after the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Horrid consequences like the Cuyahoga River no longer catching fire, and Lake Erie no longer being a single dead-zone.

      I don’t deny that government solutions aren’t always ideal, and that sometimes proposals are solutions in search of problems, but safety regulations can be beneficial, too.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Obviously, the solution is driver education, teaching people to drive defensively, avoiding collisions with other cars or stationary objects and driving slowly enough and carefully enough to avoid rollovers.

    Just as obviously, we’re going to get collision avoidance devices, more airbags, backup cameras, stronger roofs, crash cushions around every roadside object, center-of-gravity regulations for carmakers and changes to controls and drivers’ seating that attempt to make driving idiot-proof.

    All because the government regulators refuse to recognize the truism that if you try to make something idiot-proof, Mother Nature will produce a bigger idiot.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    My comment is awaiting moderation. Apparently I used a trigger word. I’m a retired transportation engineer and programmer and have neither the time nor inclination to figure out what that word is, or put up with programmed filters. Aside from a little sarcasm, I’m a moderate person and don’t want to be moderated any further. Cancel that “awaiting moderation” comment.

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