Automatic Braking Compromise Could Backfire

Recent studies have shown that collision avoidance systems that include automatic braking are an effective tool in preventing car accidents. Unfortunately, the auto industry has been slow to embrace this technology. It is often available only in higher end vehicles as an expensive option. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated that these safety systems should be standard equipment in all new motor vehicles.

Rather than pursuing legislation that would force automakers to include this equipment, the NHTSA and the Department of Transportation are trying to get car companies to voluntarily agree to implement the systems. Voluntary agreements are problematic for a number of reasons. First, automakers can completely ignore the requirement without penalty. Second, they can find ways to adhere to the letter of the agreement without actually imparting any of the safety benefits of the technology to consumers.

The notes gathered from some early meetings between industry leaders and the NHTSA demonstrate the second problem. Auto manufacturers got the NHTSA to agree that autobraking systems that slow the vehicle down by a mere 5 mph would still qualify. There is little to no research on the topic, but it difficult to imagine that many serious injuries would be prevented by a 5 mph reduction prior to a car crash.

Automakers are also agitating for a shockingly slow adoption of the technology. Despite the fact that effective versions of the technology are in vehicles on the road today, some manufacturers say they can’t get the technology into 95 percent of their vehicles until 2025. Adoption of new technology is difficult, but a 9 year window seems excessive for systems that are already working on the roads today.

Source: The Big Story, “Critics: Consumers to lose in private talks on auto braking,” by Joan Lowy, 17 February 2016

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