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Mandated Safety

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently issued a request to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advocating for a federal mandate that would require all newly manufactured vehicles to be equipped with crash avoidance features that meet pre-determined performance standards.

In theory, the mandate would create much safer U.S. roadways. It would also lead to a dramatic reduction in work for collision repair shops—by as much as 60 percent, according to NTSB research.

“When we investigate accidents and find that they could have been prevented, our job is to advocate for solutions,” says Robert Sumwalt, member of the NTSB’s board of directors.

Included in the proposal are safety systems such as forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, tire pressure monitoring and electronic stability control. (Electronic stability control is already mandated on all vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, but the NTSB advocates for inclusion on vehicles heavier than that as well.)

Of course, driver safety is the NTSB’s primary concern. The organization says the most common and deadly types of accidents involve rear-end collisions, run-off-the-road incidents, loss of control, and out-of-adjustment brake scenarios. The presence of crash avoidance systems would prevent many of those circumstances and thousands of crashes annually by alerting drivers to imminent threats and unexpected conditions on the road.

If passed, the NTSB’s proposed mandate would have substantial impact on the collision repair industry. Sumwalt says run-off-the-road scenarios, rear-end collisions and lane-change maneuvers account for 23, 28 and 9 percent of highway accidents, respectively. The presence of crash avoidance technologies in all vehicles could nearly eliminate all of those situations—amounting to as much as 60 percent reduction in crash frequency.

“We do know that this will reduce accidents,” Sumwalt says, acknowledging that it could impact the volume of work that collision repair shops receive. “We’re not trying to put collision repair folks out of business, but Congress has mandated us to make safety recommendations when we see deficiencies that could be improved.”

Crash avoidance systems have been used in vehicles for years now, but typically only as options on high-end models. Optimal roadway safety and effectiveness of the systems won’t be achieved until more consumers have it.

“Safety should not be something that is only available to those who can afford it,” Sumwalt says. “Safety should be provided to everyone who drives a vehicle.”

The NHTSA declined to comment on whether it will act on the NTSB’s request, or the likelihood of passing such a mandate. But the NTSB did add the issue to its “Most Wanted List,” which represents its top 10 advocacy priorities, in order to give the request more muscle and visibility. Sumwalt says the NHTSA is required to consider all items on its “Most Wanted List,” and report the status of those issues to Congress annually.

Although it’s not known what the NHTSA’s next move will be, the organization did say in a prepared statement that it’s “taking the concept to the next level” by working on other related roadway safety initiatives—ones that could have even broader implications on repair volume for shops. The NHTSA is conducting research into the impact and implementation of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems. The NHTSA says it’s estimated that the combination of those communication-based safety systems could reduce annual crash frequency by roughly 80 percent.

“Based on research we’ve conducted so far, we believe that connected vehicle technology could be a game-changer in safety,” the NHTSA says.

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