Car safety features trickle down at a glacial pace, study says

The Highway Loss Data Institute estimates that it can take 30 years to achieve 95 percent adoption of safety tech in the automotive industry.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
2 min read
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The speed at which new automotive safety technology comes to market is increasing all the time, but often, these cutting-edge features only hit the top end of the market. How long will it take before those vehicles (and their safety tech) penetrate the market fully? According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, it can take up to three decades.

Think about that: three decades for a feature (safety or otherwise) to go from available to nearly ubiquitous. Let's test that math. In 1985, Mercedes-Benz introduced the first factory-installed in-car CD player, and now, 33 years later, almost all cars sold have CD players as standard equipment. Three-point seat belts were brought to market by Volvo in 1959, and at some point in the late '80s, three-point belts became standard across the board.

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It can take a long time for good ideas to permeate the market, according to HLDI; up to three decades, in fact.

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So, now that we know that this information totally tracks, what does it mean for the technologies that are coming out now? When can someone at the bottom end of the market expect to get standard parking sensors or adaptive headlights? Well, HLDI predicts that 95 percent of registered vehicles will be equipped with rear cameras in 2039; rear parking sensors in 2041; forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning in 2043; autobrake in 2045 and adaptive headlights sometime after 2050.

Rear-facing cameras might be the only feature to buck the trend, or at least that's what HDLI thinks, owing to the rapid adoption by the industry. One-quarter of new vehicles sold in 2016 featured standard rear-facing cameras, while one-third of cars on sale were available with them as an option. Rear-view cameras are also the only feature on HDLI's list that is subject to a federal mandate, with all cars sold after May 1, 2018, requiring them.

What will be interesting is the effect that autonomous cars and the legislation surrounding them will have on HDLI's predicted timetable. Could we start seeing a more rapid adoption of safety tech as more large cities strive for zero traffic-related deaths? One would certainly hope so, but we'll just have to wait and see.