DETROIT – Don’t look for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s endorsement of steerable “active” headlamps anytime soon.
Andrew Lund of the IIHS uses the 2006 Convergence Transportation Electronics conference to pose the question as to whether the ability to have headlights swivel to follow curves in the road prevents – or contributes – to nighttime crashes.
The issue is accidents by drivers who fail to see a curve until it is too late.
Lund suggests, in a safety panel here, that active-headlamp technology does nothing to alert the driver to the impending turn; it merely illuminates the curve if it is navigated properly.
He goes further, suggesting the technology exacerbates the problem, as it encourages the driver to go faster at night.
“If it increases general traffic speed at night, it is a problem,” Lund says, making the problem worse, not better.
“I can see there are issues,” Lund says, citing active headlights as an example where safety technology can change driving behavior in a negative way.
But the IIHS will look at active headlamps once there are enough of them on the road, Lund says.
There is exciting new safety technology out there that works well, and there is some that will go wrong, Lund attests.
He points to antilock braking systems. From the beginning, the IIHS has seen no benefit from ABS in reducing crashes. “It just never had a very big effect.”
Bryan Reimer of Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees.
He says the problem is the auto industry required millions of new-car buyers to adopt a new way of driving, but did not educate them on how. “We expected millions to use it (ABS) without training.”
Even today, drivers who are used to the new way of braking can be thrown off when they drive an older car without the technology.
“In the future, we need technologies that are learnable and consistent.”
On the positive side, Lund says ABS was the foundation technology that enabled the industry to establish stability-control systems, which do work.
Panel members also were not proponents of driver education, especially for teens.
“It never has been a successful strategy,” Lund says. The result is it gets teens licensed sooner, and the data shows they may have more knowledge when they get behind the wheel, but it does not translate into fewer accidents.
Flaura Koplin Winston, science director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, agrees driver’s education does not make teens better drivers.
She does advocate graduated licensing. “It’s crucial because it keeps them off the road longer.”