Automotive Engineers Help Save Lives

It turns out all those fancy automotive safety devices cannot only help save lives, they can also save cash. According to The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, roughly $230.6 billion was exhausted on motor vehicle crashes in 2000 in the U.S. Nearly 42 thousand people perished that year, and 28 million vehicles were damaged.

The same government report also revealed that 5.3 million individuals suffered non-fatal injuries, 39% of all traffic-related deaths were attributed to alcohol and such substance-induced accidents cost about $51 billion. Public tax revenues, amounting to $21 billion, paid the costs incurred by 9% of crashes. That’s $200 for each household in America.

But wait. There’s more. Lost market productivity was estimated at $61 billion, property damage at $59 billion, medical expenses at $32.6 billion and the cost of travel delays at $25.6 billion. Each fatality produced a discounted lifetime cost of approximately $977,000.

Active and passive safety systems developed by automotive engineers and their colleagues may be a bigger part of the answer than we might suspect. Systems currently being developed are addressing both the monetary and safety concerns of our roadways through devices that have automatic responses to dangerous conditions or events. For instance, adaptive cruise control adjusts the speed of the vehicle to maintain a preset time gap from the vehicle ahead. Active night vision uses infrared illuminators to help drivers to see better when driving at night and electronic stability control improves the safety of a vehicle’s handling, helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle.

Surprisingly, perhaps, these are just basic safety features – ranking amongst car navigation systems, keyless entry and hybrid cars as, yes, technological innovations, but old news to vehicle manufacturers. Lane departure and forward collision warning, pre-crash mitigation systems, side alert, pedestrian and road sign recognition systems are part of the new wave. These systems “read” the road using electronics, cameras and sensors. They alert drivers when they are drifting out of the intended lane, have another vehicle in their blind spots, are in danger of crashing or are distracted. These technological gems even respond to unavoidable crashes by enacting safety precautions, such as pretensioning motorized seat belts and applying brakes during the last 400 to 500 milliseconds before a crash, when there is little a driver can do to stop it.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 50% of all crashes involve “driver inattention.” It’s impossible to pinpoint how many crashes could have been avoided if there had only been some alert system warning drivers to pay more attention during critical moments. How many crashes could have been avoided by a single alert, some notification that another vehicle was in a driver’s blind spot? By shaving off four or five miles per hour before a crash by applying the brakes?

And while saving lives and preventing injuries is of the most concern, we cannot, in all reality, ignore the financial repercussions of roadway accidents. Billions upon billions of dollars are lost every year because of these crashes. Medical expenses, property damage and lost productivity are passed on to the average citizen in the form of higher taxes and insurance premiums. What if some percentage of this cost – even if slight – could be lessened by safety systems? One percent of hundreds of billions of dollars, after all, is nothing to scoff at.

Automotive engineers are critical contributors to advancing projects with aspirations of making roads safer. Without their expertise, none of the technology currently available would have been possible and neither would future innovations. What’s more, these talented individuals are integrating these devices so they are more affordable and, thus, more accessible to the masses.

In the near future, a modestly priced vehicle could have a myriad of safety features – forward collision and lane departure warning, road sign and pedestrian recognition, adaptive cruise control, pre-crash mitigation, electronic stability control, side alert. All of it. So kiss some automotive engineers today – hiding in their offices – and tell them you’re proud. They could just save your life…and at least a few bucks on your insurance policy.