Driver-Assist Systems Seen Saving About 10,000 U.S. Lives a Year

  • Advanced features could prevent 30% of crashes, study says
  • Cost hinders car buyers' adoption, Boston Consulting finds

New auto safety technologies such as automatic braking and sensors that keep a car in its lane could prevent almost 10,000 U.S. road deaths a year and save $251 billion if they were more widely available, according to a Boston Consulting Group study.

More than a quarter of all car crashes in the U.S. could be avoided if automakers and new-vehicle buyers adopted advanced driver-assistance systems now available on relatively few models, the consulting firm said in a statement Tuesday. The technologies still cost more than consumers are willing to pay, according to the study.

“Because the vast majority of crashes in the United States are caused by driver error, the lack of adoption of these technologies within the U.S. fleet is a significant missed opportunity,” Xavier Mosquet, North American leader of the firm’s automotive practice, said in the statement.

The driver-assist technologies also are helping pave the way for autonomous cars, which are capable of eliminating 90 percent of auto crashes, Boston Consulting said. Automakers are pouring billions of dollars into developing such cars as mobility is being redefined amid a shift of most of the global population into large megacities over the next two decades. Driverless cars, operating in harmony, may be essential to the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

The advanced safety systems could avert about 9,900 of the approximately 33,000 annual U.S. deaths from auto accidents, according to the Boston Consulting study, which was conducted for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, a vehicle-parts trade group. The consulting firm in another study earlier this year forecast that by 2017, partially autonomous vehicles will arrive in “large numbers.”

‘Less Progress’

Yet the driver-assistance safety technologies that enable self-driving cars are rolling into the U.S. more slowly than elsewhere in the world. Those systems include forward collision warning and automatic braking, adaptive cruise control that keeps a set distance from cars ahead, blind-spot detection sensors, night vision, lane-departure warnings and technology that steers a vehicle back into its lane.

“Compared to Europe and Japan, the U.S. market has made less progress on the adoption front, and much work remains to be done,” said Michelle Andersen, a Boston Consulting partner who co-authored the new study with Mosquet.

U.S. consumers are balking at the costs for the new technologies, according to the study. Boston Consulting cited a recent survey that found that car buyers are willing to pay $100 to $400 for blind-spot detection sensors, which are priced at $595.

“The adoption of these technologies is where the challenge is,” Steve Handschuh, president of the supplier trade group, told reporters at a briefing in Troy, Michigan. “When it comes to consumers’ willingness to pay, it’s been quite a row to hoe.”

The cost of the safety features will drop as they are more widely adopted, Mosquet said.

Buyers also don’t fully understand the benefits of the new safety features because they aren’t adequately explained at dealerships, Boston Consulting said.

Limited Installation

Surround-view camera systems, introduced five years ago, are installed in just 1 percent of new cars this year and will reach only 3 percent by 2020, the firm said. Overall, installation of automated driving technologies is growing by just 2 percent to 5 percent annually, Boston Consulting said.

The firm calculated that the driver-assist safety technology would provide a $16,307-a-car benefit to society in accidents avoided and injuries and deaths prevented. The total cost to a consumer of all the driver-assist features the study focused on is $8,240, Boston Consulting said.

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