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Recalls Aside, Automobiles Becoming Safer than Ever

An era of zero fatalities may be within reach.

by on Dec.03, 2014

Volvo's new AstaZero safety proving grounds. The maker wants to see zero deaths in its vehicles.

With a record 54 million vehicles facing recall — and nearly another month to go before the books are closed on 2014 — it’s no surprise American automakers and auto buyers alike have been focused on safety this year.

But despite all the lapses that have seen dozens of deaths from faulty airbags and flawed ignition switches, there’s another side to the story: cars are safer than ever. U.S. highway fatalities are now about 40 percent down from their 1970s peak, even though there are more cars on the road logging more mileage.

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“I don’t think we’ve ever seen vehicle safety reach this level before,” contends Raj Nair, global product development director for Ford Motor Co.

The latest vehicles are not only better-equipped to survive crashes but also to avoid them altogether. That’s led several automakers, including both Nissan and Volvo, to declare that they hope to see no deaths occur in the new vehicles they bring to market by the beginning of the next decade.


Highway Deaths Drop to 62-Year-Low

Seatbelts, more advanced technology -- and improved emergency care all contributed.

by on Dec.10, 2012

Highway fatalities continued declining - and improved emergency care has clearly played a factor.

Traffic fatalities fell to their lowest level in more than six decades last year, according to a new analysis by federal regulators, continuing a decade-long decline – though there are some preliminary signs that the death rate may have turned back upward in 2012.

The ongoing decline appears to show the benefits of the latest advanced safety technology, like electronic stability control – some of which can “compensate for poor judgment” — as well as increased usage of simpler, time-tested devices such as seatbelts. Experts also give credit to increased enforcement, especially the crackdown on drunk driving.  Yet another factor, though, may also be the medical knowledge gained from two long wars.

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“The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction.”


Electronic Stability Control Systems Saving Thousands of Lives

“We know the technology will save even more lives,” says US safety chief.

by on Nov.30, 2012

The 2013 Honda Civic update adds rollover airbags to the car's electronic stability control technology.

Breakthrough technology designed to prevent vehicle rollovers and other serious accidents has saved an estimated 2,200 lives over the last three years, according to the nation’s top vehicle safety regulator.

A federal rule mandating the use of electronic stability control was enacted in April 2007 and following a four-year phase-in, every vehicle sold since September 1, 2011 has had to use the technology which is often known as ESC, ESP or electronic stability program.

The technology is intended to help vehicles avoid skids and other accidents and has proven particularly effective at preventing rollovers, the government indicates.

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“NHTSA research has consistently shown ESC systems are especially effective in helping a driver maintain vehicle control and avoid some of the most dangerous types of crashes on the highway, including deadly vehicle rollover situations or in keeping drivers from completely running off the roadway,” said Administrator David Strickland of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

As many as 10,000 Americans die in rollover crashes annually, even though rollovers occur in just 3% of highway accidents.


Stability Control Systems Yielding Dramatic Drop in SUV Death Rate

Sport-utes now safer than passenger cars thanks to anti-skid, anti-rollover technology.

by on Jun.09, 2011

A new study finds that with the increased use of anti-rollover technology SUVs now have a lower death rate than comparable passenger cars.

Your odds of dying or being seriously injured in the crash of an SUV – especially a rollover accident – has dropped sharply in recent years, according to a new report by an insurance industry trade group that gives much of the credit to the electronic stability control systems that are now becoming standard equipment.

While many motorists tend to view big sport-utility vehicles as a safe option because they sit higher, offer broader visibility over traffic – and have plenty of sheet metal surrounding the passenger compartment – utes have traditionally had higher death rates than comparably-sized sedans and coupes.  The big problem has been rollovers, which are far more common in truck-based vehicles, and which are responsible for a significant share of SUV deaths and injuries.

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But the situation has reversed itself now that a large and growing number of sport-utility vehicles come equipped with electronic stability control, a technology designed to help maintain control in poor driving conditions or when a driver makes an error like over-accelerating into a corner.  Most of the digitially controlled ESC systems used in trucks add software to minimize the risk of rollovers.

“The rollover risk in SUVs used to outweigh their size/weight advantage, but that’s no longer the case,” thanks to electronic stability control, or ESC, said Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Pound for pound, SUVs have lower death rates.”


High-tech Rapidly Migrating from Luxury to Mainstream

Lane departure warning soon to generate $14 bil in sales.

by on Feb.23, 2011

Lane departure warning systems, once limited to luxury cars, will soon be a mainstream, $14 bil business, a new study suggests.

Maybe you’re looking for another radio station, or yelling at the kids in the back of your minivan, but suddenly, a loud beep-beep grabs your attention.  You’ve inadvertently begun to drift across the double yellow line – and your lane departure warning system has sounded a warning.

The technology, which uses an intelligent vision system, has become increasingly common on high-line products from makers like Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.  Some luxury makers, such as Lexus, even allow the system to automatically a car back into its lane.

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Now, lane departure warning systems are following the path of other high-tech safety hardware, migrating downward into more mainstream offerings, notes a new study by ABI Research, which predicts that by 2016, lane departure warning technology could be a $14.3 billion line of business.

For 2011, the technology will migrate from models like the big Mercedes S-Class into the maker’s less-expensive C-Class.  But Ford will begin offering a lane departure warning system in the decidedly mainstream 2011 Focus.

That fits the maker’s policy, which global marketing chief Jim Farley calls “democratizing technology.”


2012 Ford Focus To Get Torque Vectoring

Torque split technology designed to power car through corners.

by on Dec.29, 2010

Ford will offer torque vectoring technology on all its 2012 Focus models.

Among the numerous features Ford Motor Co. will offer on its new 2012 Focus model will be something called torque vectoring control, a system designed to help power the car through corners.

The new system is designed to shift torque to the outer wheel as the Focus goes into a turn, both maximizing grip and improving performance.

Ford becomes the first automaker in the compact segment to offer torque vectoring, notes Focus program manager Rick Bolt.  “Because torque vectoring control is on all our Focus models, it will elevate skill sets across a broad range of drivers,” he contends.

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But Ford is just the latest on a growing list of manufacturers offering torque vectoring technology.  Other makers that have adopted the concept include Audi, Acura and Subaru.  The concept goes a giant leap beyond the time-tested limited-slip differential offered by most modern automakers.  And with all-wheel-drive models can help overcome a tendency to push through corners.


AWD or Stability Control: Which Is More Important?

Stability control may be the most important auto safety technology in a generation, but there's still a place for AWD.

by on Dec.16, 2010

Subaru's WRX STi puts its power to all four wheels.

The day after this week’s blizzard, a co-worker asked if I had driven my all-wheel-drive Subaru or the 2011 Buick Regal I happened to be testing.

AWD traction would seem to be a big advantage, and considering that I have a 55-mile commute, I’ll take all the advantages I can get.

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But the Subaru is a 10-year-old warrior, so, while it does have anti-lock brakes, it doesn’t have the latest safety devices such as traction control or stability control. So, even thought the Regal puts power down through its front wheels only, I’ll take the modern car in most circumstances over the older one, even if it is driving all four wheels.

Traction control and stability control are that important. In the old days, you wanted a limited-slip differential to keep the wheel with the least amount of traction from spinning. But traction control effectively replaces the limited slip, in many respects. By selectively braking the wheel with the least traction, the wheel that can get the best bite gets some of the power.

Steering Out of Trouble

With market showing signs of recovery, Continental rolling out new safety systems, including Emergency Steer Assist.

by on Jun.17, 2010

Continental's next-generation safety technology, ESA, could help you steer out of trouble.

The US auto market is finally bouncing back – at least in the eyes of Samir Salman, CEO of Continental’s North American Automotive operations.  And that could be good news for suppliers hoping to find a market for next-generation safety technology, he says.

“We initially thought the rebound that we’re seeing now might have taken three to four years,” Salman said, “but the current 11.5-million unit production level is encouraging.”

While discussing new technologies that Continental has ready for production, Salman said that he expects the rebound to continue into 2011 with 12.5 – 13 million units produced.


“Compared to 2009 sales of 8.5 million, things are looking pretty good, but we’ve got a long way to go. We expect that sustainable sales of 15 – 16 million units are possible in the next three to five years.” had the opportunity to speak with Salman as Continental showed American and European journalists new safety-related products from three of the supplier’s divisions; Chassis and Safety, Powertrain and Interior. (Continental’s tire operations, the highest-grossing in the group, were not included.)


Highway Deaths Plunge – Creating Opportunities for Safety Suppliers

Could zero fatalities be possible?

by on Nov.10, 2009

Advanced safety technology is clearly saving lives, but still more is needed. Ford plans to launch this combination airbag and seatbelt on the 2011 Explorer.

Advanced safety technology is clearly saving lives, but still more is needed. Ford plans to launch this combination airbag and seatbelt on the next-generation 2011 Explorer.

How many highway deaths are too many?  At one point, not all that long ago, as many Americans were being killed on the roadways, each year, as died during the entire Vietnam War.  But in recent times, the figures have begun to fall, and surprisingly fast.

As recently as 2005, the figure stood at 43,000, according to government data, but if the current run rate holds, highway deaths should dip to 35,000 for all of 2009.  Yet there are those who believe even that figure can be slashed dramatically.

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The automotive supplier, Germany’s Continental, has outlined its own plan, which it dubs “Vision of Zero,” something Samir Salman, CEO of the company’s American subsidiary admits “is a vision, but we can get there.”  Not surprisingly, he sees the answer in the form of advanced safety technology – like the gear that Continental sells.