There’s a big report out from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) today that rates half-ton pickup trucks “poor” in rear-seat passenger crash tests. In fact, front-seat passengers are now arguably safer than rear-seat passengers in trucks and other vehicles. Surprisingly, this is sort of good news.
Today will be a safety-oriented The Morning Dump, and you can read it if you want to, you can leave your friends behind. [Ed Note: This is a song reference. -Guy who never gets pop culture references (DT)]. General Motors reportedly announced it’ll stop production of its drivereless van, just as Britain says that carmakers will be liable in self-driving crashes.
And, finally, we’ll talk about V2X technology, which offers the promise of reducing crashes by a significant amount. It’s a complex issue but an important one. And then we’ll introduce you to some friends.
IIHS: Pickup Trucks Need To Work On Rear Seat Safety
There’s a concept in modern pedagogy of teaching to the test. It’s a fear that kids are only learning what will help them pass tests, and this approach leaves less room for other knowledge. I’m not going to get into that debate, but it’s clear that automakers do this as well. Specifically, automakers want to look good in tests performed by the IIHS, which is an insurance-industry-funded group that does among the most rigorous crash testing in the world.
Because every car has a person in the driver’s seat, the initial focus on crash safety was on the driver. That attention shifted to front passengers and, recently, has moved to the rear passengers. Here’s IIHS’s description of its new testing regimen, instituted in 2022:
In 2022, we updated the [moderate overlap] test to address lagging protection for rear occupants. Now, a second, smaller Hybrid III dummy has been added. The second dummy, whose size represents a small woman or an average 12-year-old, is positioned in the second-row seat behind the driver. The updated evaluation incorporates new metrics that focus on the injuries most frequently seen in rear-seat occupants.
It’s understandable that you’d assume the back seat is safer than the front because, in a head-on collision, the rear seat passenger is farther from the point of impact.
At least within the narrow constraints of IIHS testing, it’s not entirely the case. The IIHS tested the four best-selling large trucks in North America (Ram 1500, F-150, Silverado, Ram 1500, Tundra) and found that, in a new moderate overlap front test, all of the trucks ranked “poor” for overall rear passenger restrains and kinematics, though the Tundra overall was rated slightly higher than the others.
That’s not great, but there’s a twist here: Rear seats are relatively unsafer because front seat passenger safety has gotten so much better (in other words, the rear seat may not be horribly unsafe, but compared to the fronts, they are — note that children should remain in the rear, as we underline in a quote below). Look at this graphic from the IIHS for the new front moderate overlap test rear passenger evaluation:
IIHS basically says this themselves:
IIHS launched the updated moderate overlap front test last year after research showed that in newer vehicles the risk of a fatal injury is now higher for belted occupants in the second row than for those in front. This is not because the second row has become less safe. Rather, the front seat has become safer because of improved airbags and advanced seat belts that are rarely available in back. Even with these developments, the back seat remains the safest place for children, who can be injured by an inflating front airbag, and the rating does not apply to children secured properly in child safety seats.
Those are important caveats about children. Some moderate overlap “overall ratings” went from the highest rating of good to the worst rating of poor, solely because of the new testing. The good news is that, in a new (as of 2021) side test that uses a heavier barrier than before, traveling at a higher speed, the trucks mostly did well:
Cars and trucks continue to get safer and, perhaps, there’s a point of diminishing returns where it becomes less cost-effective to chase tests from a non-governmental organization like the IIHS. With over 40,000 passenger vehicle deaths last year, we’re nowhere near that point, however.
In many ways, the next and most important frontier for vehicle safety is not what happens inside the car, it’s what happens outside, as roadway deaths for pedestrians and cyclists have risen by over 60% in the last decade. I’m going to come back to this point later.
Cruise Halts Driverless Van Production
Almost exactly a year ago Ford bailed on its driverless car startup Argo.ai, and signs point to serious struggles at GM-owned Cruise. First Cruise had its permit revoked following a crash where a robotaxi dragged a pedestrian down the street. Then Cruise announced it was suspending all of its driverless taxi service.
Forbes has a pretty big scoop this morning thanks to a recording of an all-hands meeting at Cruise wherein CEO Kyle Vogt says that the company is going to pause production of the fully autonomous Origin van being developed with Honda:
According to audio of the address obtained by Forbes, Vogt remarked on the company’s recent decision to halt driverless operations across its entire autonomous vehicle fleet, telling staff that “because a lot of this is in flux, we did make the decision with GM to pause production of the Origin.”
Vogt told staff during the meeting that the company has produced hundreds of Origin vehicles already, and that is “more than enough for the near-term when we are ready to ramp things back up.”
“During this pause we’re going to use our time wisely,” he added, noting that Cruise was in active discussion with partners and regulators.
This isn’t great news for Cruise but it makes sense. Until the company has buy-in from local governments and more trust with regulators, there’s no reason to keep pouring capital into a project you can’t use. Curiously, Honda showed the vehicle at the Japan Mobility Show, so this decision is likely recent.
Britain: Companies Are Responsible For Self-Driving Crashes
In the United States, our tiered layers of legislatures and general reactionary poise result in a lot of new concepts and technologies being evaluated first by the judicial branch. This is true in the area of driverless cars, where two successful cases by Tesla have resulted in a sense that individuals are responsible for incidents with driverless cars.
The opposite is often true in Britain, where the government is on the verge of passing a law that clarifies that the maker of a driverless car is responsible for an incident if it occurs while the car is driving itself.
As Reuters reports, this is good for consumers but also probably good for driverless carmakers:
Self-driving industry experts have warned that building out national regulatory frameworks and establishing legal liability are crucial for public acceptance of autonomous vehicles and for insurers to provide coverage.
The bill will establish new processes to investigate incidents and improve the safety framework, and will also set the threshold for what is classified as a self-driving car.
If a vehicle falls short of that threshold, the driver will be responsible at all times, the government said, and the bill will prohibit misleading marketing so that cars that fall short of the safety threshold can’t be marketed as self-driving.
US DOT: V2X Could Predict 12% Of Crash Scenarios
Imagine your car telling you that you’re about to drive too fast to stop in time for a crosswalk. Or that a police vehicle is on the side of the road around the corner. Or that a bunch of bicyclists are going to soon be ahead of you on the road.
The technology for this exists and it’s called Vehicle-To-Everything, or V2X, and the U.S. Department of Transportation thinks that it could predict and help drivers avoid 12% of potential crash scenarios.
Automotive News sent a reporter to a meetup of automakers and regulators in Michigan trying to push this technology:
There are some hurdles, though, including deciding who is going to take all this data and disseminate it (probably cellular networks). The biggest hurdle is probably the FCC, which ruled that the 5.9 GHz cell band can be used for V2X applications, but hasn’t explained exactly how yet.
Welcome Aftermath To The Independent Media
First, there was Defector, made up of primarily ex-Deadspin folks. Then there was us, The Autopian, made up of a lot of former Jalopnik staffers.
We’re excited to welcome Aftermath to the informal club of ex-GMGers, which includes Gita, Riley, Chris Person, Luke, and a bunch of other writers you probably know and love.
Here’s their pitch:
As workers and owners, we’re beholden to no one but ourselves, and to you, our readers. When you subscribe, you’ll get access to writing that pursues the truth and casts a critical eye on gaming and the internet, that doesn’t need to placate capital or kowtow to PR. You’ll be supporting the kind of journalism our past experience has shown us you like best: honest and irreverent, written for people rather than SEO.
If you love video games please follow and support them!
The Big Question
Who should be responsible for a car crash with a driverless car?