In his keynote address at the 2016 Fleet Technology Expo, Tim Johnson, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Vehicle Research and Test Center provided an overview of vehicle safety technologies, covering systems that have recently been introduced to the market as well as technologies currently being developed, such as autonomous vehicles.
NHTSA conducts research on safety systems, offers grants, and sets policy related to traffic safety. Its Vehicle Research and Test Center evaluates safety systems from a variety of sources.
"We're testing whatever we can get our hands on at the test facility," Johnson said.
The main focus of the presentation was autonomous vehicles, and Johnson provided details of five levels of autonomous vehicle technology. Driver alert systems, such as crash warnings and electronic stability control, are considered Level 0 because they alert the driver but do not offer any sustained control of the vehicle. Level 1 features, which offer sustained lateral or longitudinal control, are being incorporated in many safety systems today, including adaptive cruise control and truck platooning.
Level 2 features offer sustained lateral and longitudinal control, in which the driver is responsible for monitoring the driving environment and retaking control. An example of this level is the Tesla autopilot. At the moment, no available vehicles have reached Levels 3-5, though Johnson noted that it's the next step. The agency issued a federal policy on autonomous vehicles in September.
The agency's ultimate vision is implementing onboard sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems for 360-degree awareness around the vehicle. Johnson believes that more safety technologies will cut down on accidents significantly.
Johnson also took questions from attendees of the conference in Schaumburg, Ill., addressing the importance of keeping vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems secure and government's role in promoting safety technologies.