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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.

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House Democrats Introduce New Auto Safety Bill

Law increases NHTSA powers, requires maker transparency.

by on Sep.19, 2014

Rep. Henry Waxman and other Democrats introduced a new vehicle safety bill.

Just days after U.S. Senators laid into auto safety regulators during a committee hearing, a group of House Democrats introduced an auto safety reform bill mandating automakers make information about potential safety problems more easily accessible.

Introduced yesterday, the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act requires makers to make public technical service bulletins, ban recalls that apply to only certain parts of the country, and require car companies to keep records about possible defects for 20 years.

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Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., submitted the bill that would also eliminate the $35 million cap on maximum fines, which is likely to rise to the $300 million recommended by the Obama administration. (more…)

GM Developing Smartphone Safety Network

System could provide eyes and ears for unseen traffic hazards.

by on Oct.18, 2011

A network of smartphones and other devices could alert motorists to unseen obstacles.

The latest smartphones can do just about everything but cook breakfast – though they can help track down the recipe for a mean Eggs Benedict.  Now, General Motors is looking at ways to link smartphones to alert your car to unseen pedestrians and other obstacles.

In effect, a network of smartphones – paired with fixed cameras and other roadside sensors – could create a wireless safety net, the maker suggests.  Dubbed vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, such systems could help avert nearly 81 percent of all U.S. vehicle crashes, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Such technology could be in place within a decade, adds the automaker – which recently showed off a vehicle that might be able to integrate the technology, the second-generation Chevrolet EN-V.

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“These safety systems could provide a significant leap in automotive safety, but their effectiveness goes up dramatically as more people use them,” said Don Grimm, senior researcher for GM’s Perception and Vehicle Control Systems group. “By putting the technology into portable devices, we could make this potentially life-saving technology widely available and more affordable.”

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GM Develops New Collision Warning System

Relies on low-cost, single-camera design.

by on Sep.30, 2011

The new GM crash-avoidance system relies on a single camera to help reduce the cost for mainstream buyers.

General Motors is planning to equip the 2012 GMC Terrain with the industry’s first, “affordable” crash avoidance system. The system is based on a single camera placed in front of the rear-view mirror to help drivers avoid front-end and un-signaled lane departure crashes.

It’s by no means the first collision avoidance system on the road, but the new technology significantly lowers the price compared to existing designs that may use multiple cameras, radar sensors or both, putting the system within the price range of mainstream, rather than luxury, buyers.

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“Digital image sensors are used in just about everything from cameras to mobile phones to computers and this is making them a more-affordable alternative for use in vehicles,” said Raymond Kiefer, General Motors Technical Fellow for crash avoidance systems.  “By combining a digital camera with state-of-the-art image processing algorithms, we’re able to estimate when a crash may be imminent,” he said.

This dual-benefit crash avoidance system will cost $295, which is significantly less expensive than the systems now available in luxury cars, GM’s experts said. The maker developed the system with extensive help from suppliers, including Magna, TRW and Mobileye.

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Experts Debate How Cars Will Talk to Each Other

Vehicles that interact with each other could save lives and fuel.

by on Aug.04, 2010

Talk to me. The next big safety breakthrough could come from having vehicles talk to each other - a concept called IntelliDrive.

It seems like such a simple concept: get cars to talk to one another and they should be able to not just save fuel, but also save lives.  Yet as a group of sometimes disagreeable panelists proved at an industry confab, this week, simply getting people to talk about how to interconnect tomorrows cars is a difficult challenge.

Then again, designing the technology could be the easy part.

Most experts actually seem to agree that technology allowing cars to communicate with each other — and the infrastructure – could make our highways safer and more efficient.  But they disagree about who should have access to vehicles’ computer systems – and at what level.  Right now, automakers rigidly control access to the automotive operating system in a way that even Apple Computer might find constricting.

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Frank Weith, technology strategy manager in the Electronics Research Lab at Volkswagen of America, said the automakers are reluctant to give access to the vehicle’s systems.  But what became increasingly clear during a session at this year’s Management Briefing Seminars, in Traverse City, Michigan, is that they may need to.

“The firewalls have to shift,” said John Waraniak, vice president of advanced vehicle technology strategy for the Specialty Equipment Market Association. “Open frameworks are the way forward.”

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Debate Over “Runaway” Toyotas Heating Up

Is there a bigger problem than floor mats?

by on Nov.03, 2009

They may be reliable, but there are growing concerns about the safety of Toyota vehicles, more than 3 million of which are facing a new recall.

They may be reliable, but there are growing concerns about the safety of Toyota vehicles, more than 3 million of which are facing a recall.

When Toyota announced the recall of more than 3 million vehicles, last month, the Japanese maker not only hoped to ensure the safety of its owners, but to put to rest concerns about the safety and quality of its vehicles.

This week, recall notices will go out advising motorists how to deal with the problem which, according to Toyota, involves driver floor mats that can jam the accelerator pedal and make it difficult to impossible to maintain control of the vehicle.

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But could there be another problem causing some Toyota products to surge out of control and, at times, race to speeds of up to 100 miles an hour?

That was clearly left open, today, when federal regulators issued a statement suggesting the 3.8 million vehicle recall is only an “interim measure, not a remedy.”

However, six times in the past six years NHTSA has undertaken a review of allegations of unintended acceleration on Toyota and Lexus vehicles, and six times the safety agency has found no vehicle based cause for the unwanted acceleration allegations.

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