How Much Longer Until We Get There?

Based on news reports, we hear about self-driving cars becoming a reality, lane departure warning systems, airbags built into the seatbelt and other “whiz-bang” devices designed to help us survive and avoid crashes.  These features are significant, but are they in your car or truck today?  If not, when can you expect to see them become incorporated into your next new vehicle?

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) recently released a report about the typical time it takes for new safety innovations to become widely available.  Their conclusion after studying tons of data is that it usually takes about three decades for a new safety feature to move from initial introduction to being found as either a standard item OR an available option in 95% of the vehicles on the roadway.

Their article goes on to offer an example; “…it won’t be until 2016 that 95 percent of all registered vehicles could have frontal airbags, the authors predict, even though manufacturers began adding frontal airbags in meaningful numbers during the mid-1980s.”  The real impact of this lag time becomes evident in even more recently introduced appliances; “Forward collision warning, which was rolled out in theUnited Statesin 2000, could take even longer. If it continues to follow its current trajectory, the crash avoidance technology won’t be available in 95 percent of registered vehicles until 2049, HLDI predicts.”

There are two main factors in this lag time: 

  1. new features that prove helpful are not instantly available in all new models and
  2. not everyone replaces their vehicles frequently enough to keep pace with new features as they’re introduced into more makes and models.

It is amazing to investigate the progress made on crash avoidance systems that are presently available in high end luxury cars and as after-market installs for commercial vehicles, but it’s also sobering to realize how few people are presently benefiting from these systems. 

What’s the net impact of this lag time?

“The Institute has estimated that if all vehicles were equipped with forward collision warning, lane departure warning, side view assist, and adaptive headlights, 1.9 million crashes — including 1 in 3 fatal crashes — could potentially be prevented or mitigated if the systems worked perfectly.”

Another factor surfaced from the study – some innovations are more quickly adapted and incorporated than others: “Head-protecting side airbags, for example, shot up quickly in the beginning. It took 10 years for them to be available in 25 percent of the registered fleet, and it’s expected to take 15 years to reach 50 percent. In contrast,ESCreached the one-quarter mark after 16 years and is expected to be in half the fleet after 20 years.”

Finally, they also noted that the presence of some legacy technologies can accelerate new innovation acceptance; “Interestingly, antilock brakes have spread quickly even though they were never required. Despite promising results on the test track, realworld crash data haven’t shown large benefits from the technology. [However,] They got another boost fromESC[Electronic Stability Control] because an antilock braking system is a prerequisite for stability control. Now that the government requiresESCon new vehicles, antilocks have essentially become mandatory, too.”

So pay attention when you see the television ad or the professional journal article about new innovations, but realize that it may be a while until those systems hit the road in earnest.  In the meantime, don’t sacrifice the “basics” of driver training, performance monitoring, and solid vehicle inspection programs tied to preventative maintenance.