With serious automotive accidents rising rather significantly in 2015, transportation safety officials say it's time to put the pedal to the metal and bring self-driving vehicles to consumers as soon as possible.
Speaking recently at a conference in Detroit, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind told attendees that vehicles with automated features are making driving conditions much more secure for motorists, The Wall Street Journal reported. Several studies performed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety have corroborated the administrator's statement, including one from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety on brake assist.
"We should be desperate for anything we can find to save people's lives," Rosekind cautioned, according to the Journal, alluding to a recent report from the NHTSA, which found that over 35,000 people were involved in fatal automotive accidents last year, up almost 8% from 2014.
Rosekind's entreaty comes in the wake of the first serious accident involving a fully automated vehicle. Though the cause of the crash is unknown and federal officials are investigating, the deadly incident occurred in May on main highway in Florida.
NHTSA held series of safety summits in February and March
When the government released the data earlier this year indicating serious highway accidents had risen, NHTSA put together a series of summits throughout the winter in the nation's capital. In addition to providing an update on how far away self-driving vehicles are from being widely available – most believe it will be within the next five years or so – federal officials and key stakeholders touched upon other aspects contributing to road safety concerns, including distractions, speeding, seat belt compliance, and intoxicating beverages.
"We are analyzing the data to determine what factors contributed to the increase in fatalities and at the same time, we are aggressively testing new safety technologies, new ways to improve driver behavior, and new ways to analyze the data we have, as we work with the entire road safety community to take this challenge head-on," said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary in a press release.
A potential solution to the sticking points some have with the protection of automated technology is requiring automakers to get certification from regulators that self-driving automobiles are safe to use. As presently constituted, there aren't any safety standards regulating the autonomous vehicle industry, Foxx told Congress in July, according to the WSJ. He further stated that with heightened regulatory scrutiny, it could be the tool that "assures not only ourselves but the industry and also consumers that the vehicles they are getting into" have gone through the proper testing procedures that affirm they're good to go.
Even though few Americans are familiar with fully automated vehicles – only a relative handful are registered for use in states that allow for them – they're for the most part on board with the technology and how it will revolutionize the industry. According to a study performed by AlixPartners and reported by Bloomberg, 73% say they are looking forward to the day when robots drive rather than them.