NHTSA begins to move toward pedestrian safety

Safety advocates have long sought modal parity in American road safety standards. As improving vehicle safety features make driving safer for vehicle occupants, lagging road design improvements and increasingly aggressive car design create hazards for everyone else. At long last, advocates say, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed changing the way it rates new cars to identify those that are the most dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Traffic deaths rose 8% in 2015, more than 10% among non-motorized road users

Traffic deaths rose in 2015, a 7.7 percent increase from the previous year, according to preliminary estimates from NHTSA, marking the highest number of deaths since 2008. Cyclist deaths increased by the largest amount, followed by pedestrians, and motorcyclists, highlighting a critical need to focus on the safety of vulnerable road users. The National Safety Council noted the significant number of traffic deaths midway through 2015, attributing it primarily to the increase in driving nationwide. The newly released numbers seem to validate a strong link between the two.

The winding road to self-driving cars

This spring, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a policy statement on automated vehicles, which offers guidance for states that are considering authorizing tests of driverless vehicles. Three states—California, Florida, and Nevada—now explicitly authorize self-driving cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. Michigan is expected to become the fourth state by the end of the year. Although not explicitly authorized, driverless cars are not specifically prohibited anywhere in the nation and are assumed to be legal throughout the U.S.

Automakers designing for pedestrian safety

Traditionally, improving the safety of pedestrians sharing roads with motor vehicles has been accomplished through policies aimed at reducing vehicle speeds and the likelihood of vehicle-pedestrian collisions. However, in recent years automakers have been working to design cars in ways that reduce the likelihood that pedestrians struck by motor vehicles will die or suffer serious injuries as a result.

With continued testing success, governments are embracing connected and self-driving vehicles

New legislation in California, a large-scale test in Michigan, and an on-road demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, bring the era of connected and autonomous vehicles closer to reality. Auto makers and NHTSA are partnering to assure interoperability, and the federal government weighs requiring emerging technology on new cars.