The road to a safer driving future

Carlos Ghosn and Gary Shapiro

Seat belts, air bags and, more recently, driver-assist features such as lane-departure warnings, collision-avoidance systems and rearview-mirror cameras have dramatically enhanced road safety. But there’s still room for improvement.

Car accidents claim the lives of more than one million people annually worldwide. In the U.S. alone, almost 100 people die and 12,000 others are injured in car crashes every day. And yet, even as our cars are getting safer, these numbers are climbing. In 2015, the death toll rose 8 percent over the previous year, the largest year-over-year increase in a half-century, thanks in part to falling gas prices which get more people on the roads.

Now, innovation and technology are offering a solution — and it’s not that far into the future. Autonomous-driving technology offers the promise of greatly reducing the number of traffic crashes and saving countless lives, solving one of the greatest public health challenges of our lifetime. Today, 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error — autonomous drive technology will help correct for that, providing for greater confidence, and lower insurance premiums.

These technologies also will deliver much more than safety; they’ll help reduce urban congestion and provide for stress-free, more productive drives, especially with the introduction of fully self-driving cars. With more time to spare, drivers will be able to use another growing technology: connected cars and services. They will be able to read the news, participate in conference calls, watch movies, or catch up with family, all while being safer on the road.

Not only are vehicles getting safer, they will soon be cleaner and more efficient. That’s where another breakthrough automotive technology — zero-emission, all-electric vehicles — offers the promise of improving our quality of life and enabling a cleaner, greener environment. Last year, electric vehicle sales were up 60 percent. By 2030, at least 15 percent of new vehicles sold could be all electric.

All three of these automotive advances — autonomous-driving technologies, connected cars and services, and the latest generation of electric vehicles — will be on display at CES 2017 this month in Las Vegas. Nine automakers and nearly 140 auto tech companies, from major automakers and original equipment manufacturers to software developers and aftermarket installers, will be on-site showcasing the latest innovations in autonomous and self-driving mobility.

Nissan will be at CES to unveil technologies that will help accelerate us toward zero-emission, zero-fatality driving. Among them is a new innovation called Seamless Autonomous Mobility, or SAM. Developed with NASA technology, SAM combines autonomous vehicles with onboard artificial intelligence and connected services, cloud-based artificial intelligence and customer services like taxis, robo-delivery, shuttles and other transportation alternatives. It will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to integrate autonomous vehicles on the road and safely meet a range of customer needs. And the next generation LEAF, Nissan’s best-selling all-electric vehicle, is coming in the near future and will be equipped with ProPILOT autonomous drive technology for single-lane highway driving.

The autonomous and connected car revolution has the power to transform lives for the better, from carpooling support and door-to-door delivery of food and medicine to the elderly, to providing more independence for senior citizens and more mobility to people with disabilities. A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that by 2045, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to increase by 77 percent. It further notes that around “One-third of people over 65 have a disability that limits mobility. Their access to critical services will be more important than ever.”

Thankfully, fully autonomous-driving technology is not 30 years down the road — and maybe not even five years down the road in some urban areas. The future of mobility is here and moving at the lightning-fast speed of innovation. But technology is only part of the equation. We need policymakers and government agencies — at all levels — to provide the policy environment for these technologies to flourish. Together, we can achieve zero-emissions and zero-fatalities on the road, and create a better society for everyone.

Carlos Ghosn is the chairman and CEO of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault Group, and chairman of Mitsubishi Motors. Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.