National Consumers League

Automobile industry ignoring safety packages

NCL Public Policy Intern Melissa Cuddington contributed to this post.

In November 22, 2004, Automotive News, the publication that covers the auto industry, ran one of my favorite editorials of all time:

“All safety related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles. No choice. It’s not an economic decision; it’s a moral decision. When the choice becomes profit vs. lives, the decision should be simple.”

This issue is more pertinent now than ever. The National Consumers League strongly supports enhanced auto safety technologies and, like the quote above says, it’s a moral decision to make safety technologies standard equipment. Case in point: driver-assist technology, has been available for about a decade in the United States. It includes automatic breaking, lane-changing aids, and cruise control, each of which has made driving safer.

One would think that these driver-assist programs would be included in “standard safety packages,” but they are not. As such, it’s sad to read that the auto industry is doing a poor job marketing and selling these systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, salespeople are apparently not being properly trained to discuss the benefits of these safety technologies. In a recent survey done by the MIT AgeLab, only six out of 17 car sellers were able to explain the safety technologies. In fact, many car salespeople say they don’t have the knowledge or the time to explain these packages. Car sellers are not incentivized to explain these technologies because they drive up the cost of the car and take “excessive” time in the showroom. What a loss! Thirty percent of traffic accidents and fatalities could be avoided if the majority of cars had these standard safety packages, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

This lack of enthusiasm for selling the safety that exists today is ironic. Automobile manufacturers are trying to rush through Congress a bill that gives nearly carte blanche for the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) with little regulation. Safety is one of the top reasons AVs are being touted by the auto industry as a means for greatly reducing auto injuries. But we are skeptical; just look how industry gives short shrift to the safety devices we have access to now!

There are notable exceptions. NCL applauds carmakers Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation for their plans to include safety packages in their standard car models, such as the 2019 Subaru Ascent and the 2018 Honda Accord. These companies have also made a concerted effort to keep prices down for models featuring the safety technology. We’d like to see them and their competitors expand these features to their whole fleet.

We urge the automobile industry take a second look at the cost of these driver-assist packages that aren’t standard equipment, to train their sales force to sell these lifesaving packages, and—most importantly—to start to include these safety packages in standard car models. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between affordability and safety. Like Automotive News said nearly 15 years ago, “All safety-related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles.”