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U.S. Has Chance to Update New Car Testing – or Continue to Fall Behind in Traffic Safety

Earlier this year several League staff members met with staff from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) at the urging of Champe Burnley, the Executive Director of the Virginia Bicycle Federation, a League member organization. Champe has been involved in DriveSmartVA, a statewide non-profit founded by insurance companies with the mission of raising awareness and changing behavior to improve the safety of roadways in Virginia.

Coming out of that meeting, one of the most interesting topics we discussed was how far behind the United States was in testing new vehicles for pedestrian and bicyclist safety. In 2018, the European Union began testing new cars with Automated Emergency Braking (AEB) systems for their ability to avoid or mitigate crashes with bicyclists – but we were told that neither the IIHS nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were likely to have such testing for years.

This inspired me to reach out to automakers and ask them when we’d see the systems that they currently have in Europe in the United States. I sent a survey about AEB systems to all 20 automakers who in 2016 announced that they would make AEB systems standard by 2022. It was a short 10 question survey asking questions such as, “Do you anticipate the AEB system that is standard on your vehicles in 2022 will be able to avoid a crash with a bicyclist in at least some circumstances?”

The response was … underwhelming. But, I ended up meeting with two auto manufacturers – Toyota and Mitsubishi. They assured me that the same systems tested in the EU were likely the systems found on cars in the United States – although confirming that might not be easy. Their staff seemed genuinely interested in bicycle safety and indulged my questions about safety technologies and bicyclist-specific safety issues. I left with the impression that AEB systems truly will be a part of making bicyclists, and pedestrians, safer.

Now, maybe, we have the opportunity to catch up to the rest of the world in this important testing and assure that AEB systems, and other vehicle systems, are an active part of a future that includes a commitment to zero traffic deaths and a future that is laying the groundwork for eventual automated vehicles.

NHTSA is currently accepting comments about how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) should be updated. The League’s comments focus on the potential benefits of AEB systems and how they are already tested in other countries. You can read our comments here. Please consider taking action and telling NHTSA that the United States must be a leader in traffic safety once again – starting by matching, if not exceeding, the testing standards of peer countries. Voice your opinion and prod NHTSA to modernize new car testing by visiting this page.

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