The drive for safer cars
The number of registered cars in South Korea exceeded 20 million last month. Personal vehicles that totaled two million in 1988 when the Seoul Olympics were held have surged tenfold in just a quarter of a century. Cars have become commonplace to the extent of every other home owning one and have changed the lifestyle landscape. Cars have become an indispensable modern invention that enhance convenience and pleasure, but also as one of the biggest deadly dangers to people.
Car accidents not only require repair work, but also cause enormous social cost because of the lives that are lost. The aftermath leaves lasting physical and mental scars for the people involved. The country’s car accident rate and deaths have fallen against the growth in car numbers, but nevertheless remain high when compared with advanced nations. The government has been carrying out various campaigns and policies to reduce car accidents, but a more lasting and fundamental solution is needed through the development of safety measures based on engineering technology and regulation revisions.
The buzz phrase in the car industry these days is “automated driving system.” Automakers have been in a race to develop driverless vehicles ever since Internet giant Google unveiled a self-driving car in 2010. The key behind automation is sensors to replace human driver functions and a self-control system. Various advanced driver assistance systems are under development to allow reliable and responsive vehicle actions to supplement the driver’s attention and minimize distractions to significantly bring down accident rates.
Most existing safety equipment like seat belts and air bags was designed to protect passengers from injuries during accidents. But the focus has shifted to preventing accidents through pre-emptive safety mechanisms. There are several prototypes already in use - radar-based adaptive cruise control that can maintain the distance between vehicles and a camera-based emergency braking system that stops the car at signs of danger. The most helpful system is the automated emergency brake system that can act before the driver has time to see and respond to sudden intrusions or dangers.
Various automated safety systems are being tested overseas and are regularly reported to consumers. According to one report, cars fitted with automated emergency brake systems showed lower accident rates. Insurance companies in countries like Britain and Germany offer discounts for drivers with vehicles equipped with automated braking. This also encourages manufacturers to develop more reliable safety engineering systems and boosts consumer interest in safer vehicles. When the financial sector joins in to support vehicle safety systems and reduce accidents, the benefits for society can be huge.
The campaign to reduce road accidents through scientific safety systems needs to enlist both the financial and automaking sectors. The insurance industry should come up with an evaluation and rating system to charge premiums bases on vehicle safety equipment. Automakers should continue to develop technology to provide affordable and quality safety systems.
The local financial and automaking industries have collaborated since 2008 in assessing car insurance premiums according to brands. Insurance premiums are rated according to the ratio and extent of accident occurrences and the cost of repairs. This causes manufacturers to design cars that would sustain less damage and require fewer repairs as a selling point to consumers in the market for purchasing a new car. These endeavors help both society and consumers.
In the future, competitiveness in the car industry will lie in safety. Car safety is in the best interest of both individuals and insurance companies. Insurance and carmakers, therefore, should work together to achieve vehicle and road safety. They can only attain that goal through partnership. To reduce accidents, carmakers, financial companies, scholars and drivers all have to join forces. Through concerted efforts, we could reduce the rate of traffic accidents to the levels of those in advanced societies. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 21, Page B10
The author is the chairman and CEO of the Korea Insurance Development Institute.
by Kim Soo-bong