More stories related to SAEDETROIT – BMW AG wants to put the auto safety industry on a new diet.

After years of pouring money into expensive crash testing focused on passive-safety measures such as airbags, structural components and restraints, the German auto maker says it is time for government safety regulating bodies to get serious about furthering collision-avoidance technologies.

“What started out as necessary for good health eventually becomes unhealthy, unless the diet has changed,” Josef Haberl, BMW Group director-vehicle safety, says, referring to an overreliance on passive safety advancement. “I think in safety, we need a global change in diet.”

During an SAE World Congress safety panel discussion here, Haberl says the auto industry finally became serious about developing vehicle safety 25 years ago, at about the same time he started working on BMW’s safety strategy.

Since then, billions of dollars have been spent improving passive safety elements on the federal level, while active safety development mostly has been led by voluntary efforts by OEMs and suppliers.

Haberl estimates passive systems have reached a level of 95%-100% effectiveness. He insists that squeezing additional improvement would eat precious development dollars that could go to forwarding more advanced collision-avoidance technology.

He points out some of the voluntary crash-avoidance components BMW has introduced, including run-flat tires, headlamps that turn with the vehicle, brakes that automatically apply when it rains to keep the discs dry, suspension systems that automatically adjust during emergency maneuvers, steering that compensates for slippery conditions and brake lamps that get bigger and brighter during panic stops.

“(Safety) costs us a lot of money, Haberl says. “BMW’s position at least is that we would like to spend this money more on accident avoidance. We want to contribute with manpower and research dollars in these few promising areas, but more and more crash tests unfairly steal resources.”

BMW joins a growing list of companies calling on federal regulators – both in the U.S. and abroad – to step up research initiatives into technologies such as electronic stability control, lane departure warning systems and drowsy-driver mitigation.(See related story: Continental: NHTSA Needs to Push ESC)

Says Haberl: “Today we see seatbelts everywhere, airbags everywhere, padding everywhere, more structure everywhere, more crash tests to fuel the insatiable appetite of a hungry machine. For a long time, (it was) the right diet. But is it still the right diet?

“My answer is no. Unless we change the diet by convincing government regulators that more crash-avoidance technologies are needed, not more crash tests, we run the danger of becoming safety fat – like 100 airbags (in a vehicle).”

Haberl points to the need to better develop vehicle-to-vehicle communication, for example. The promising technology, which would need the cooperation of roadway infrastructure, suppliers and auto makers in order to work, could allow vehicles to warn one another of an imminent collision ahead.

“Advanced systems require many years of development, and that is exactly why we need to use our resources wisely,” Haberl insists.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com