Car companies love to explain how their research and development efforts will lead us toward “a world with zero crashes,” as General Motors puts it. Automakers like Stellantis and Nissan, among others, tout their efforts to develop “next generation technologies to make roads safer for drivers and pedestrians alike.”
With American roadway deaths now exceeding 40,000 per year — including a surge of 10.5 percent in 2021, the fastest on record — these promises sound like salvation.
The companies are referring to technologies, typically known as advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), that can manage aspects of the driving experience and intervene if the human behind the wheel makes a mistake. Such features include automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and pedestrian detection. With billions of dollars invested, automakers, federal regulators, and safety advocates alike are bullish about ADAS’s potential to achieve “collision-free mobility,” as Honda puts it.
These new features are hardly the panacea that their boosters imply
But upon examination, these new features are hardly the panacea that their boosters imply. Some elements presented as safety enhancements (like lane keep assist) may be little more than driver conveniences. For now, at least, those technologies that could save the most lives (like pedestrian detection) remain deeply unreliable. And even if ADAS eventually works flawlessly, it is likely to have only a modest impact on annual traffic deaths.
As the United States confronts a …….