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Study: Crash safety technologies take decades to spread

Consumer Reports News: January 25, 2012 05:08 PM

Even with government mandates, the proliferation of safety features typically takes 30 years for the technology to spread to most vehicles (new and old) on the road, according to a new report by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

For this study, HLDI looked at antilock brakes, front- and side-air bags, electronic stability control, and forward collision warning to predict how fast new technologies would spread to 95 percent of registered vehicles on the road. Antilock brakes were introduced in the 1985 model year and were standard in 99 percent of the 2010 model-year vehicles. However, due to the age of the vehicle fleet, ABS won’t reach 95 percent of vehicles until 2015.

Manufacturers began adding front air bags to vehicles in the mid-1980s, but the government didn’t require them until 1999. Based on HLDI predictions, and national fleet attrition, it won’t be until 2016 until dual front air bags are found in 95 percent of vehicles, new and old.

Head-protecting curtain air bags were introduced in 1998. In 2005, they were standard in 33 percent of vehicles and optional on 29 percent. It is expected that 95 percent of vehicles on the road will have these airbags by 2028.

Introduced in 1995 and mandated as standard equipment by 2012, electronic stability control has rapidly penetrated the market in recent years, In fact, by 2009, 100 percent of new SUVs and 74 percent of new cars were equipped with ESC. Looking at the entire new and used fleet, HLDI estimates ESC will be in 95 percent of vehicles by 2029.

Forward collision warning is typically only available on luxury models, but recently some manufacturers like Chrysler and Ford have been adding them to non-luxury vehicles. It first appeared in 2000, yet in 2010, forward collision warning was only standard on 1 percent of models and optional on 11 percent. If this trend continues, it won’t be found in 95 percent of vehicles until 2049. However, further studies on the benefits of these systems could move that date up sooner.

Even though automakers are implementing technology quickly in their vehicles, it still takes time for the safety features to reach the majority of vehicles on the road, especially with car owners holding on to their cars longer these days.

Ultimately, what drives the proliferation of safety features is a combination of government mandates, increasingly stringent crash-test standards, and consumer interest. Our latest Auto Pulse survey shows that Safety remains the number one factor for consumers when looking at their next new car, giving hope that the roads will continue to become safer.

Liza Barth


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