The Next Seat Belt

Seat belts (paired with airbags) fundamentally changed the safety dynamic of driving for consumers to a point where they became required in all vehicles. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will have a similar trajectory.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are systems developed to automate/adapt/enhance vehicle systems for safety and better driving. Safety features are designed to avoid collisions and accidents by offering technologies that alert the driver to potential problems, or to avoid collisions by implementing safeguards and taking over control of the vehicle. Adaptive features may automate lighting, provide adaptive cruise control, automate braking, incorporate GPS/ traffic warnings, connect to smartphones, alert driver to other cars or dangers, keep the driver in the correct lane, or show what is in blind spots.

Basically ADAS uses technology to make you a better/more aware driver.

First, a brief history on seat belts

The first variation of the seat belt was invented in the mid-19th century by English engineer George Cayley. Many years later, they made their way into cars when Nash and Ford offered seat belts in 1949 and 1955, and Volvo integrated the first three point seat belt in the late 1950s.

The next decade, in 1966, Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which formally established Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards which made seat belts mandatory in all US vehicles.

Today it is illegal in every state except New Hampshire to drive without a seat belt.

Safety Statistics & ADAS

Seat belts reduce the risk of death of front-seat passengers by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%.

According to a report by BCG commissioned by MEMA, ADAS could prevent 28% of all crashes in the US, approximately 9,900 deaths, and saving $251B to society if new-car buyers invested in the most common currently available ADAS features.

It’s statistics like these that make it abundantly clear that ADAS will go the way of seat belts and become mandatory in all new vehicles in the near future.

When does this happen?

It’s already starting to happen. By 2018 all cars will be required to have rear view cameras. With increasingly autonomous features creeping their way into vehicles today (whether it’s the more simple lane-keeping and blind spot warning tech, or the more advanced systems like Tesla Autopilot), the technologies will become very important to both regulators and consumers. More OEMS are going to need these technologies to continue to sell cars, and if ownership models shift from full to partial or distributed ownership (a la Uber) then the importance of safety and tech could outweigh status and looks.

This provides an opportunity for both aftermarket companies (if they are willing to deal with regulatory hurdles) as well as directly integrated ADAS startups to be acquired by a wide-range of OEMs or Tier 1/2 suppliers. (I’ve written about this before).

And what does this fear-driven safety adoption potentially mean for the market? While today everyone is chasing Level 5 autonomy, the short to medium-term opportunity very well could lie in ADAS.

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