EL SEGUNDO, CA - Statistics show that 2009 was the least deadly year on American roads in nearly 60 years. With the growing use of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), that momentum should continue into the future. 

"In the United States, as well as in nearly every other country, automotive OEMs are steadily increasing the availability and visibility of their safety and driver assistance systems," said Jeremy Carlson, automotive researcher for iSuppli, a technology market research firm. "Many ADAS that would have had an effect on highway-speed fatalities and injuries have only been available for the last several years, given that the systems were introduced around model year 2006. Since then, ADAS systems have found wider usage, undoubtedly impacting NHTSA data positively." 

A recently released report from the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that 33,808 people died from traffic accidents in the United States in 2009, representing a 9.7-percent decline in total road deaths over the previous year and the lowest number of deaths since 1950. 

Fatalities declined for all categories of vehicle occupants and non-occupants, including motorcycles, which had previously seen a continuous 11-year increase, and pedestrians, who generally have no built-in protection system when colliding with a motor vehicle. 

Surprisingly, these across-the-board decreases in fatalities occurred in a year when total vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.2 percent to just less than 3 trillion miles. The result is a historically low fatality and injury rate of 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the lowest ever recorded. 

What is not surprising, however, is that such results appear at a time when both the government and automotive industry are pushing safety like never before, including the use of ADAS. 

ADAS systems include adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance and mitigation, lane departure warning, side object detection and driver monitoring. 

In 2009, 4 million ADAS units were included in North American cars, according to iSuppli. iSuppli forecasts that by 2017, total OEM ADAS will reach 30.7 million vehicles in North America, equating to a compound annual growth rate of 29.0 percent from 2009 to 2017. 

As OEMs steadily increase the availability of current systems, both OEMs and suppliers also continue to work on the next generation of automotive safety. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications, such as the kind found in the U.S. Department of Transportation's IntelliDrive project, can address up to 82 percent of all crashes by unimpaired drivers, which will have considerable impact on the fatality and injury statistics reported by the NHTSA. The government also is helping with its own efforts and hopes for even better results in 2010. 

In many cases, these initiatives become joint efforts encompassing government agencies, automotive OEMs and industry suppliers. Projects such as IntelliDrive in the United States or CVIS in Europe are prime examples of such cooperation, while industry events such as the ITS World Congress, SVOX Forum and various auto shows provide the venues to make connections and begin discussions on how to maximize the impact of these projects.