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Watchdog calls for automatic braking to be standard in cars

When's the perfect time for a mandate? When everyone's already doing it

To help cut down on car crashes and road deaths, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a rule that would mandate automated emergency braking (AEB) technology in all new vehicles. 

The tech, which can already be found in a variety of vehicles alongside other automated driver assist technologies, brakes or slows a car when the machine detects a stopped vehicle or pedestrian in its path. According to the NHTSA, implementation of the rule [PDF] as it proposed would save at least 360 lives, and reduce the severity of some 24,000 injuries, per year.

"Our proposed rule would require all cars to be able to stop and avoid contact with a vehicle in front of them up to 62 miles per hour. And the proposal would require pedestrian AEB, including requiring that AEB recognize and avoid pedestrians at night," said NHTSA chief counsel Ann Carlson. The proposed rule would require that pedestrian AEB be switched on when a vehicle speeds up beyond 37 miles per hour. 

The plan would require virtually all light vehicles of 10,000 pounds or under in the US to be equipped with AEB three years after the final rule is enacted. As the submission is just a proposal, it could take months of discussion and revision before that becomes the case and automakers are sure to have a view. 

The NHTSA said the suggested rule was written in response to provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that proposed such an AEB requirement. It'll be a key part of President Biden's National Roadway Safety Strategy, which was enacted in January 2022 "to address the national crisis in traffic fatalities and serious injuries," the NHTSA said.

Yearly statistics of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people have been on a gradual upward trend since bottoming out in the early 2010s at 32,479 deaths in 2011, or 10.4 per 100,000 people. Fast forward a little over a decade and there have been nearly 43,000 road fatalities (2021), raising the average per 100k to 12.9. 

AEB: The next new normal in driving

There isn't really much in the way of arguments against AEB, especially from auto safety groups who've gathered data on the technology and its effectiveness. We've reached out to several automakers to get their takes - if anyone is likely to be peeved by the proposal it's them - but those that answered didn't state an opinion on the matter. 

According to 2021 data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute, AEB systems reduce the frequency of injury insurance claims by a full quarter, and reduce the number of police-reported front-to-rear crashes by as much as half. Rear-facing AEB is also effective, the study found, reducing collision claims by 3 percent and property damage liability by 14 percent. 

The IIHS/HLDI said last year that AEB systems designed to reduce collisions with pedestrians also work well, cutting accidents by 27 percent in vehicles equipped with the technology. 

Unfortunately, today's tech doesn't work so well at night, the IIHS and HLDI said, and the pedestrian crash risk in the dark on roads without streetlights was the same in AEB-equipped cars and those without the technology. The two groups have lobbied the NHTSA to improve night pedestrian AEB, provisions for which were included in the newly proposed rule. That is to say, it should be possible to devise the technology needed to automatically brake for people in the dark, but right now, that sort of thing isn't in place, we're told.

A number of automakers have already committed to making AEB standard in their newer vehicles, including Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and Dodge/Chrysler parent company Stellantis. Even more automakers, including GM, Jaguar, and Porsche, are working on full adoption of the tech for most of their vehicle fleets.

GM told us it's on the verge of surpassing its voluntary commitment to include AEB on "100 percent of electric vehicles and 98 percent of all GM models by the end of the 2023 model year." In addition, "[MY 2024] HD trucks and the Chevrolet Corvette will receive standard AEB as well," GM said. 

Being practically ubiquitous already, it's the perfect time to go one low-resistance step further by mandating AEB.

"Just as lifesaving innovations from previous generations like seat belts and air bags have helped improve safety, requiring automatic emergency braking on cars and trucks would keep all of us safer on our roads," US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said of the rule. ®

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