GAO: Fatal Thanksgiving wrecks preventable with new anti-crash system

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Transportation,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,GAO,Auto Industry,Technology

As the nation hits the road for Thanksgiving, the deadliest holiday for car wrecks, a new federal audit is cheering the development of high-tech crash avoidance systems that could help prevent three-quarters of the 5 million annual accidents that kill tens of thousands of Americans a year.

A program tested by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration where cars communicate where they are via a low-cost wireless system finds that 76 percent of the crashes could be prevented by screaming warning signs to drivers.

While the government won’t complete testing the “vehicle-to-vehicle” system until February, the successes appear stunning and could help to curb the accidents and fatal wrecks of future Thanksgivings, long known as the nation’s killer holiday with with an average of about 400 deaths a year. In comparison, in the entire year of 2011, there were 5.3 million wrecks that killed 32,000.

The Government Accountability Office said in a new report that the system may be required in new cars in the future and would also be available for car owners to add to their autos. The cost is estimated at $310.

The system being tested by car makers and NHTSA uses wireless communications to determine where a car is on the road, via GPS, and can predict if a crash is imminent even when cars and around the corner from each other. Some of the systems use crash avoidance techniques to steer or brake cars. The auto industry is also testing systems separate from the government.

But there are drawbacks, said GAO, most importantly: Will drivers act on the warnings? And there are concerns about the accuracy of GPS systems and an overloaded wireless channel. Privacy issues are also a worry: Will the government or private industry operate the central communications system?

What’s more, even if the federal government requires new cars to install the safety systems, it may take 20 years for most cars on the road to have it.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.