The Good News
The new year is here, and according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), it may be a safer one. For those of you in the market for a new car, it might be worth taking a long, hard look at the 2015 models of several top brands.
Each year, the IIHS conducts vehicle tests and rates each vehicle on its ability to protect its passengers in a crash. In addition, it also rates a vehicle on its ability to prevent a frontal collision through warning systems and automatic emergency braking systems. The best performers are awarded either one of two safety awards: Top Safety Pick (TSP) or Top Safety Pick+ (TSP+).
As an NPR article reported, the number of vehicles winning these two ratings nearly doubled for the 2015 models, going from 39 to 71. The automatic braking technology is one of the big contributing factors to the surge in better safety ratings. The institute’s website has a breakdown of the 2015 winners by vehicle type and size. What is the make that has topped them all for years? The Japanese-made Subaru, each model receiving a TSP award for six years in a row. Again this year, all seven models received a top rating, with five of the seven receiving the TSP+.
The Bad News
While newer models are improving in safety on our roads, some argue that there is an equal and opposite force that is making our roads more dangerous as we start a new year: lower gas prices. Gas prices are falling everywhere, and Alaska is no exception. As of January 2015, prices here in Fairbanks have dropped to $3 dollars a gallon.
You might not think that lower gas prices and traffic injuries are linked, but Guangqing Chi, a sociologist at South Dakota State University, has found that there is indeed a link. He started his research back in 2008 when gas prices spiked, and since then, he has found a correlation between lower gas prices and more traffic fatalities. This correlation held true for 144 countries. Chi estimates that a $2-dollar drop in gas prices nationwide would result in an additional 9,000 traffic-related deaths.
I don’t know about you, but that number floors me. Why such a drastic spike? Chi found that his own behavior was a good indicator of others’ behavior in answering this question. As he says, he drives differently when gas prices are higher; not only does he drive less, but when he does drive, he accelerates more slowly and maintains a steady speed. Not only do these behaviors save gas but they save lives as well. Higher gas prices also tend to keep younger, more risky drivers with less disposable income off the roads. Combine all of these factors, and you have a recipe for less disaster. So when gas prices plummet as they are doing right now, all of these inhibitions fly out the window, resulting in more deaths.
You might be the proud owner of a TSP or TSP+ 2015 vehicle, but without an equally crash-proof human behind the wheel, it won’t make much difference—or will it?
You have most likely heard the buzz around self-driving vehicles, like the F 015 Luxury in Motion by Mercedes-Benz, designed to be a “mobile living space,” or Google’s driverless car. However, these are still only “concept” cars, for which we are all eagerly waiting to see rolled out and functioning.
While these cars do not yet exist as viable options that we can drive, certain aspects of their technology are already being implemented in our cars today. For instance, one of the features that makes 2015 models, on average, so much safer is the automatic braking technology—undoubtedly the same technology that will one day make cars go all by their own accord.
Many cars, like the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, are now being equipped with this safety feature for frontal crash prevention. According to an article, the Automatic Emergency Braking technology, or AEB, on the Genesis uses both cameras and radar sensors and can stop the vehicle at speeds between 5 and 50 mph. Older systems would merely warn drivers of imminent frontal collisions, but newer AEB systems claim to actually have the ability to brake automatically and come to a complete stop if it perceives that an accident is imminent and the driver does not react in time. Have your doubts? Watch this admittedly cool video to see it in practice.
As exciting as these technological strides may be, it is important to be leery. We would love to be able to trust technology completely, but there is always the possibility for mechanical error. For instance, last year, the driver of a 2014 GM Chevy Impala claimed that he was rear-ended after the car’s automatic braking system kicked in without reason.
In addition to kicking in at the wrong time, AEB is also at risk of not kicking in at all. It doesn’t work for every situation; it depends on the speed of the vehicle in operation in relation to the vehicle or object it is approaching, as well as the distance between the two objects. And even if the distance, the speed, and all other factors are just right, nothing is a sure thing.
Defensive Driving: Your Best Bet
Although the new year will undoubtedly ring in some new and improved safety features that will offer better protection against car accidents, there will always be the same dangers that we need to look out for to do our part in preventing traffic injuries and fatalities. You can take all the precautions in the world, but you can never trust other drivers. The best defense against a car accident is defensive driving. Keep your human eyes out for all potential hazards: vehicles in your blind spot; brake lights ahead; icy, slick, or obstructed roadways; caribou crossings; the list goes on and on. If your best defenses fail you and you find yourself in an accident in part due to someone else’s negligence, please contact a personal injury attorney in Fairbanks who can help to bring you the financial relief you deserve.