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Opening Remarks for Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC
Earl F. Weener, PhD
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

Good morning. I am Earl Weener and, as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our board room for our first expert-panel discussion on driver assistance safety technologies.

Today’s event has been organized by the NTSB advocacy staff in partnership with the National Safety Council. We have asked you to join us to engage in a dialogue regarding the benefits of current safety technologies, the availability and deployment of vehicle safety features, and the importance of educating consumers about what these new features can and can’t do.

With us today is President and CEO of the National Safety Council, former Chairman of the NTSB, and my friend, Debbie Hersman. As a highway safety advocacy leader, Debbie is here today with us to reinforce the message of how important existing and emerging technologies can be in preventing crashes, reducing injuries, and saving lives.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be a leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. According to our colleagues at the National Safety Council, 2016 is on pace to be the deadliest year on our nation’s highways in nearly a decade. More than 19,000 people have died during just the first half of this year. This increase comes after traffic fatalities unexpectedly rose in 2015 after several years of declines. While we can’t say that one year makes a trend, those numbers are very disturbing and, certainly, a move in the wrong direction. We believe that existing crash avoidance technologies could have prevented many of these deaths, and that advanced driver assistance systems, such as forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, can play a significant role in saving lives.

The NTSB has advocated for driver assistance safety technologies for more than two decades. We have produced multiple safety technology reports and have issued 14 safety recommendations urging the use of collision avoidance technologies to prevent crashes. We have included the need for collision avoidance technology on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements twice in that timeframe as well. Because of my belief in the importance of these technologies, in 2016, I elected to assume the role of leading the NTSB’s advocacy campaign for promoting collision avoidance technologies in all highway vehicles.

Advances in highway safety have come a long way over the past few decades. Seatbelt use is at an all-time high and airbags have become standard equipment. But, with thousands still dying on our roads each year, there is a tremendous opportunity for additional safety technology solutions.

Earlier this year, I met with automakers and vehicle safety researchers in my home state of Michigan. I had the opportunity to experience several different safety technologies, such as the autonomous emergency braking system that stopped our car to avoid a vehicle stopped directly ahead. Another car provided an audible alert when I drifted out of the marked lane and then provided steering assist to get me back between the lines. The ability to see these technologies firsthand helped me fully appreciate their lifesaving potential.

That said, the best safety measure for any vehicle is a sober, well-rested, fully focused operator; drivers should not be lulled into a false sense of security and become overreliant on advanced driver assistance technologies. It is important to understand that the technologies are assistive, not autonomous in nature. To be clear, these systems are designed to assist the driver - not replace the driver.

As these technologies become integrated into our transportation system, it is vitally important for manufacturers and dealers to educate consumers about their benefits and proper use. We are here today to discuss the best ways for all of us to help with that consumer education process. To make sure that drivers seek out these technologies, understand them and use them consistently and appropriately.

I look forward to hearing and learning from the distinguished speakers who have agreed to come and share with us their research and expertise. Today, we will have five sessions of presentations that will cover the availability and benefits of advanced driver assistance safety technologies, human factors research, and methods to improve public education and promotion efforts. The day will conclude with an open roundtable discussion among all of our presenters as they discuss what we learned over the course of today and respond to questions from our audience.

Before we kick off our first session of the day, I would like to ask Debbie Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council, to share some opening remarks.