For most buyers of new cars and trucks, the new model year means that automakers will advertise and tout a host of new features. More often than not, excited buyers enticed by a new feature will go to the dealership only to find that the advertised new feature is only present on high-end or special edition vehicle models. In recent years those new and exciting features have mostly been luxury items such as in-car entertainment systems, keyless ignition, and other features. But if one can think back to the late 1980s and early 1990s and the introduction of the airbag, one will remember that this safety technology had a similar staged rollout. First, airbags were found only in luxury and higher-end vehicle models, but as time went on the driver-side airbag became standard in all vehicles just as the passenger-side and then the side-curtain airbag began their journey to the mainstream vehicle models.
One might expect for technologies like automatic braking to take a similar path. In many ways, up to this point, it has since autonomous braking features have, largely, been limited to high-end luxury vehicles. However, this is about to change for a number of manufacturers. The Department of Transportation and Institute for Highway Safety have announced a groundbreaking agreement with 10 major automakers that will require the manufactures to equip all new vehicles with automatic braking technology.
What is Automatic Emergency Braking?
Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) can be thought of as a stepping stone in between cars controlled entirely by a human driver and autonomous vehicles guided by electronic sensors and algorithms. First, it is important to note that AEB functions only when the driver fails to brake or fails to brake sufficiently. The system does not control vehicle steering and it cannot drive the vehicle independently from a human driver. However, while the technology does have its limitations, it is also capable of significant safety improvements by preventing accidents from occurring and mitigating the violent forces involved when an accident does occur.
AEB works through the coordination of an array of electronic sensors and cameras. These sensors are positioned and designed to monitor the proximately of nearby vehicles. The software suite controlling the sensor is programmed to recognize situations where differences in vehicles’ relative speeds is likely to produce an imminent collision. When a situation like this is detected, the vehicle’s computer will automatically apply the brakes to a degree that is appropriate to avoid the rear-end collision or other accident. Even if the braking system is unable to avoid the collision, its braking should help reduce the forces involved in the crash and, thus, reduce the severity of injuries suffered.
What Are the Advantages of Automatic Emergency Braking?
AEB has been proven to be an effective safety technology. Last January, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed a proposal that added AEB to NHTSA’s list of recommended advanced safety features. By May, the secretary of the DOT had announced plans intended to expedite the delivery of these systems to the greatest number of motorists. According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Fox, “We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes happen. But if technologies such as automatic emergency braking are only available as options or on the most expensive models, too few Americans will see the benefits of this new era. These 10 companies are committing to making AEB available to all new-car buyers.”
As for the particular advantages AEB systems present, IIHS president Adrian Lund said, “Most crashes involve driver error. This technology can compensate for the mistakes every driver makes because the systems are always on alert, monitoring the road ahead and never getting tired or distracted.” An IIHS study showed that deployment of AEB technology can reduce injury claims by up to 35 percent. Another study administered by the National Transportation Safety Board found that roughly 80 percent rear-end collisions that currently produce about 1,7000 annual deaths could be eliminated. Euro NCAP tests found that AEB systems could potentially prevent up to 38 percent of accidents and also significantly reduce injuries suffered in car crashes.
What Companies Are Included in this Agreement?
This agreement current covers 10 major automakers. DOT claims that these automakers account for about 57 percent of all U.S. auto sales. The companies that will be required to include AEB systems in all new models are:
- General Motors
While these 10 companies have voluntarily agreed to include this safety system in their vehicles, the details regarding the implementation still must be worked out. The manufacturers and automakers must establish a timeline to guide these efforts and provide consumers guidance as to when they can expect the feature to reach vehicles.
The Agreement Is a Step Forward for Highway Safety, But Does it go far Enough?
While the safety agreement is an important step forward, it is a measured one. A number of safety advocates believe that this voluntary and limited agreement does not go far enough. They worry that the measure will delay further improvements in auto and still want the U.S. government to make automatic emergency braking mandatory for all vehicles. The Center for Auto Safety released a statement that was critical of the agreement. They stated:
Among Tesla’s aggressive launch of automatic technology, automatic emergency braking is the next big safety feature on vehicles. It’s up there with electronic stability control and airbags. This can’t be voluntary. This needs a mandated safety standard with rigorous performance measures that trigger a recall if an automaker doesn’t meet them. Only a rulemaking will give consumer groups the opportunity to raise the hard questions such as if one stops a car going at 25 mph then why not at 50 mph, which is closer to highway speeds? NHTSA should have no part of a private deal cut behind closed doors.
Thus, while the Center recognizes the value of these systems, it believes that automakers are likely to develop inconsistent standards that may fail to adequately protect motorists or to take full advantage of the safety technology.
The agreement is an important step forward and the commitment to expediting the implementation of a proven safety technology is commendable. However, the efficacy of this agreement will come down to the details still to be worked out among automakers and the U.S. government. Let us hope that the Center for Auto Safety’s predictions are unfounded regarding the effectiveness of these systems due to the lack of a rulemaking process. However, one problem still remains: automakers other than these ten are not obligated to include this important safety feature on all vehicle models and are not currently required by any regulator to begin a phase-in process. Unfortunately for drivers, this likely means that the goal of having 100% of new vehicles equipped with this proven technology is still years away.
Were you in an accident caused by a failed brake? Contact a Delaware County car accident lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm today and see what your options are.