A Vision for Safety

Advancing Automation for Safer Roads

You’ve likely heard about automated or “self-driving” vehicles. There’s a lot of talk about how they’ll be safer, more convenient, and change how we get around. But what’s the reality?

The Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are working to support the development of automated vehicle safety technologies because of their potential to save lives.

We know that 94 percent of all serious vehicle crashes are caused by human errors and choices. By helping people drive more safely through automated driver assistance technologies, we can prevent crashes and related deaths and injuries on America’s roads. One day, fully automated cars and trucks might make traffic deaths a thing of the past.

Let’s be clear: fully automated or “self-driving” vehicles aren’t arriving in showrooms tomorrow; they’re likely years, maybe even decades, away. What we’re experiencing is an evolution in vehicle safety that is leading toward cars and trucks that help us drive more safely.

Many automated driver assistance technologies are already available in today’s cars and trucks, including Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keeping Support, Blind Spot Detection, and other advanced safety technologies. These and other driver assistance safety technologies work thanks to combinations of computing power, sensors or cameras that help the vehicle understand its surroundings and either warn the driver or take action itself to avoid a crash.

As the technologies that power automated driver assistance features advance, vehicles are expected to become increasingly automated to improve safety. Additional automated vehicle features will help us better see the world around us and help us drive more safely through it. Ultimately, these automated features may result in a fully “self-driving” vehicle that can control all aspects of driving.

To further promote automated vehicle safety advances, the Department has released A Vision for Safety: a roadmap for the future development of automated vehicle safety technology that may one day culminate in a fully self-driving vehicle. It is a non-regulatory approach aimed at promoting automated vehicle safety innovation that promises not only to cut deaths and injuries on our roads, but their related costs, cut commuting time, and expand mobility options.

For example, a NHTSA study of 2010 crash data showed motor vehicle crashes that year cost $242 billion in economic activity, including $57.6 billion in lost workplace productivity, and an additional $594 billion due to loss of life and decreased quality of life due to injuries. Eliminating the vast majority of motor vehicle crashes could erase these costs.

Additionally, roads filled with automated vehicles could help to smooth traffic flow and reduce traffic congestion. Americans spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays in 2014, cutting into time at work or with family and increasing fuel costs. With automated vehicles the time and money spent commuting could be put to better use.

A fully self-driving vehicle could also greatly improve mobility options for seniors and people with disabilities who have been unable to adapt vehicles to ensure safe driving. A fully self-driving vehicle could support greater independence for many seniors and better connect Americans with disabilities with jobs and opportunities.

A commitment to constant vehicle safety innovation has helped to reduce motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries over the past several decades. However, more than 30,000 people still die in crashes every year. Automated driver assistance technologies are already helping to prevent vehicle crashes and to save lives; further advances in automation toward a fully self-driving vehicle could possibly eliminate unnecessary deaths and injuries. While it won’t arrive tomorrow, A Vision of Safety offers us a path toward a safer future through automated safety technologies.