All new cars could soon have automatic emergency braking

Photo (c) Michael H - Getty Images

NHTSA's proposed rule could take effect within 60 days

Many of today’s new cars have a safety feature called automatic emergency braking (AEB). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving to require it on all new cars and trucks in the future.

AEB uses sensors to detect when another car or object is too close and automatically applies the brakes. Regulators say adding the feature to all cars would dramatically reduce crashes associated with pedestrians and rear-end crashes. 

NHTSA projects that once finalized, the rule would save at least 360 lives a year and reduce injuries by at least 24,000 annually. As an added bonus, safety regulators say AEB systems would result in significant reductions in property damage caused by rear-end crashes. Many crashes would be avoided altogether, while others would be less destructive.   

“Today, we take an important step forward to save lives and make our roadways safer for all Americans,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Just as lifesaving innovations from previous generations like seat belts and airbags have helped improve safety, requiring automatic emergency braking on cars and trucks would keep all of us safer on our roads.”   

Widespread support from safety groups

A number of safety groups have endorsed the proposal. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said the provision of the proposed rulemaking that requires pedestrian detection that works both at night and during the day is especially important.

In March 2022, IIHS joined the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) to press regulators to make that feature mandatory.

Both an HLDI analysis of insurance claims and an IIHS study of police-reported crashes have reportedly found large benefits from pedestrian AEB. However, while the IIHS study found that the systems cut pedestrian crashes in daylight or on well-lit roads, it found virtually no effect at night on unlit roads. More than a third of fatal pedestrian crashes occur under those conditions.

‘Game-changer’

“Pedestrian AEB that works well at night is a game changer for protecting the most vulnerable people on the road,” said IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey. “This proven technology takes action when a driver doesn’t and can reduce the severity of a collision or prevent the collision from happening altogether.”

NHTSA’s proposal would require that all new passenger vehicles have AEB capable of braking to fully avoid a crash with another vehicle at up to 50 mph. Vehicles must also be able to stop for pedestrians from speeds up to 37 mph, and pedestrian detection must work in dark conditions.

The proposal is likely to be adopted since it was advocated by Congress, as part of the 2121 infrastructure bill. If it goes into effect it would be after a 60-day comment period.

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