The forward collision warning and automatic braking technology looks poised to become the airbag of the 21st Century when it comes to vehicular safety.
The U.S.’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recommended the technology become standard original equipment on all cars, and has received commitment from 10 manufacturers to make it so.
“We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes happen,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "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.”
The announcement was made at the official opening of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s newly expanded Vehicle Research Centre, where vehicles in segments are crash tested in order to come up with head-to-head safety rating comparisons. The technology is a required feature in vehicles that vie for the top safety ratings from the IIHS.
The way it works is that sensors, cameras or radar sense a change in speed in the vehicle ahead and the driver is alerted through visual and auditory warnings (lights and whistles, in other words) to the possibility of a crash. The next step is to have the vehicle automatically brake itself to a complete stop – automatic emergency braking or AEB – if the driver doesn’t take action. The full braking might not prevent the crash but it will reduce the impact, significantly reducing damage to vehicles and occupants.
“Secretary Foxx’s direction to NHTSA is clear: We must work to expedite the implementation of advanced technologies to save lives at every opportunity,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “These 10 manufacturers have committed to an important principle: AEB is a life-saving technology that should be available to every vehicle owner. In the months ahead, NHTSA will work closely with IIHS and the auto industry to carry out that commitment, and we encourage every other manufacturer to join this effort.”
One of the problems with avoiding rear-ending the vehicle in front is that the driver isn’t alerted fast enough about the chance of a collision (which is what the warnings address because a computer can deduce a potential crash a lot more quickly than a human can). The second problem is that the driver doesn’t react quickly or effectively enough in that he/she may not apply sufficient braking pressure to bring the car to a stop more quickly (which is what the automatic braking does because with today’s electronic “drive by wire” braking systems, a computer can make the braking system apply the necessary pressure).
“The evidence is mounting that AEB is making a difference,” said IIHS President Adrian Lund. “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.”
Real world studies, including a recent report from the IIHS, show that AEB technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.
Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo have all agreed to work with IIHS and NHTSA in implementing the technology as a standard feature, including developing a timeline for implementation in order to make it reasonable for all manufacturers selling cars in the US to meet the requirements. Combined, the ten account for over half of all annual new car sales in North America.
NHTSA and IIHS will set specific performance criteria for manufacturers to meet their commitment and will communicate how soon consumers can expect to see AEB technology as standard equipment in their next new vehicles.