Panel Discusses Impact of Safety on Consumer
Choice During SAE International's Government/Meeting; Educating
the Consumer about Safety Issues Also Is Hot Topic
February 1, 2010
A panel held during last week's SAE International annual government/industry
meeting in Washington, D.C., brought together several safety experts
who agreed that safety affects consumer choice when it comes to
decisions involving their cars.
The panel included Dave Zuby, senior vice president of the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), who discussed not only the
types of ratings the insurer-funded IIHS provides, but also their
importance to consumers.
| The SAE Government/Industry Meeting was held
in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show. Though the popular
auto show in its early years was held during the week between
Christmas and New Year's, to attract a large consumer basis,
it has moved to late January in recent years in hopes of impacting
the nation's lawmakers.
"Our effort is one way [insurers] can be seen working to control
what's going on on the highway," Zuby said.
He also pointed out that one of the institute's main goals is to
"keep highway safety in the public eye."
The IIHS offers four different ratings, including front crashworthiness,
side crashworthiness, roof strength, and rear crashworthiness. The
group recently began rating bumpers as well. The Auto Glass Replacement
Safety Standard Council's board visited the IIHS's test facility
in Ruckersville, Va., last March. (CLICK
HERE for related story.)
In addition, the group creates lists each year of the top safest
cars and trucks on the road, known as its "Top Safety Picks."
"We change the criteria each year to keep this list meaningful,"
Crash avoidance systems-a popular topic among industry participants,
due to their impacts on a vehicle's glass system-also were a popular
"It's still not clear from the real world how the systems
manufacturers are putting into cars are going to work," he
said. Currently, he pointed out, only two of the vehicles on the
2009 Top Safety Picks list have forward avoidance ratings-so for
now, he said, this will not play a prominent role on the list.
Dean McConnell of Continental Automotive Systems NA addressed another
important topic, educating consumers about safety. McConnell noted
that while educating the consumer is important, educating the industry
is just as important.
"What we believe based on experience is that marketing of
safety equals education on all levels-not just consumers,"
McConnell offered a look at the history of auto safety, from the
first traffic fatality in 1899, to the first airbags in 1974, to
2003, when the first collision avoidance system appeared. In 2012,
he noted, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA)
will require Electronic Stability Control on all light vehicles.
He also predicted that vehicles that drive themselves are not far
into the future.
"I'm not saying we're ready for autonomous vehicles, but the
technology is there," said McConnell.
And this is where McConnell said consumer education becomes most
"There are a lot of misconceptions out there and our goal is
to turn those into real understanding," he said.
He pointed out, for example, that before some of the technologically
advanced systems, such as Volvo's CitySafety program, which monitors
surrounding traffic, become widespread, the public needs to be educated.
"We've learned from ABS systems and from airbags that if people
don't know how they work, some value is lost," McConnell said.
However, once this happens, he hopes that soon the available systems
will become economical for the average consumer.
"Our vision is to have safety systems that are affordable
to everyone," he added.
David Champion of Consumer Reports noted that though consumers
may view safety as important, sometimes, there are too many sources.
"There are many different sources and sometimes all those
factors can be quite difficult for the consumer to understand,"
Champion also touched on an interesting area for car development
and how various safety measures can impact a vehicle's overall safety.
"A car is a compromise-any safety feature you add could take
away from another area," he said. "For example, we don't
want roof strength to be implemented to the point that it hinders
your ability to see out of the car."
And, finally, he questioned some of the latest safety mechanisms.
"Are we making the cars so good that we're taking away the
inherent conscience needed to drive the cars?" he asked.
The SAE Government/Industry Meeting was held at the Washington
Convention Center in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show last
week. Stay tuned to glassBYTEs.com for a detailed look at
the Washington Auto Show.
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