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Remarks at the Automotive Safety Council 2017 Technology Fair – The Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Washington, DC

​Good afternoon!  Thank you, Doug [Campbell], for that very kind introduction, and thanks to you, Kevin [McMahon], and everyone at Automotive Safety Council (ASC) for this invitation.  It is very exciting see the latest automotive innovations and even more exciting to see innovations that are designed specifically to save lives and prevent injuries.  More than 50 years ago, the Automotive Safety Council was founded as the American Seatbelt Council, but of course today, ASC works on many different types of lifesaving technologies.  As someone who was saved by a seatbelt myself, I am grateful to you for these diverse technologies designed for the common goal of safety.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent investigative agency, shares this goal with you.

In fact, six of our ten current Most Wanted List issues relate to your work.  These issues are collision avoidance technology, occupant protection, fatigue, event data recorders, distractions, as well as alcohol and other drug impairment.  Your work to develop improved automation and refined vehicle safety features is helping prevent crashes and protect people of all ages, from our youngest children to our Baby Boomer and older generations.  The NTSB continues to encourage the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to explore more robust collision avoidance technology, implement DADSS [driver alcohol detection system for safety] to separate drinking from driving, and improve occupant protection especially for passengers in rear seats.

Our time is short today, but I know everyone is interested in the NTSB’s recent – and first – investigation into a crash involving a Level 2 automated vehicle.  In May of last year, a 2015 Tesla Model S, was traveling eastbound on a divided highway near Williston, Florida.  A truck traveling westbound was making a left turn across the eastbound lanes. The Tesla’s automation did not detect – nor was it designed to detect – the crossing vehicle.  The Tesla struck the side of the semitrailer, then crossed underneath, shearing off the car’s roof.  Sadly, the car driver died.  The NTSB determined the probable cause was the truck driver’s failure to yield of the right of way, combined with the car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation.

A contributing factor was the vehicle’s operational design, which permitted prolonged disengagement from the driving task. This crash shows that, as we encourage wonderful cutting-edge technology like automated vehicles, we must remember always to keep safety at the forefront.  This technology fair, and the work that you do every day, also reminds us to remember our roots, even as we move from partially automated vehicles to self-driving cars.  Seatbelts, airbags, other forms of occupant protection, pedestrian protection, and collision avoidance – let us not forget the vital safety technology that we already have today - technology that we will continue to build on, technology that will continue to save lives. Thank you for inviting me to speak today and thank you for all your work to make our vehicles safer.