A national safety campaign to help drivers navigate new, lifesaving technologies was unveiled in Washington D.C. Wednesday, Oct. 7, by the nation’s leading transportation authorities amid concerns that Americans are uncertain about how important vehicle safety features work—even those that have been standard for years.

Among the speakers was Daniel McGehee, director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Program in the University of Iowa Public Policy Center, which is leading the MyCarDoesWhat campaign. The center is part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

McGehee was joined by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind and Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC).

“As we advance future technologies that could change the game for safety, we also need to make sure drivers know how to use safety features that are already available,” Foxx said. “Current safety features cannot save lives unless drivers use them, which is why MyCarDoesWhat promises to both educate drivers and save thousands of lives every year.”

The United States is on pace for the deadliest driving year since 2007, according to NSC estimates. Experts have said that the increase is likely the result of an improving economy and low gas prices, which have Americans driving more.  

New crash avoidance technologies can help, but a recent study by the University of Iowa found most drivers are uncertain about the technologies and how they work. Forty percent of drivers reported their cars had acted in ways that startled or surprised them.

“Because vehicle technology can be a game changer, we’ve created MyCarDoesWhat to keep you safer in the driver’s seat,” Hersman said. “Knowledge enables you to be your car’s best safety feature.”

“Technology has forever changed the way we drive and this is just the beginning,” Rosekind said. “We know these technologies can save lives, but if drivers don’t understand them, they will not meet their life-saving potential.”

McGehee said that for more than 20 years the University of Iowa has conducted original research and development, interdisciplinary research on how automotive technologies, driver behavior and performance and public policy interact. One of Iowa’s areas of focus has been improving technology design through a better understanding of human behavior.

“As the lead partner, the University of Iowa was tasked with developing and leading a team that could implement a large-scale national media campaign devoted to highlighting advanced vehicle safety technologies,” he said.

“The good news is that technology has made today’s vehicles safer than ever, technology that can now prevent crashes altogether,” he added. “Unfortunately, our research reveals a majority of drivers are uncertain about how the many new safety technologies work – even safety features that have been standard in vehicles for years.”

He said the MyCarDoesWhat campaign will help drivers better understand the latest safety and crash avoidance technologies, which means they'll be more likely to use them effectively as a result. 

A related story in Iowa Now about the campaign is available here