Rear-end collisions are the curse of the motoring classes. They become more common as traffic congestion increases and as electronic gadgets distract drivers from the task at hand.
But just as technology contributes to the problem, it can also help solve it. Through advanced collision avoidance technology, that's increasingly available as an option on lower-priced cars and as standard equipment on luxury models, consumers may be able to avoid extra trips to the auto shop.
Now three of the nation's top consumer advocates say the technologies should be standard on all cars and have petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require them as standard equipment, saying the move would prevent thousands of deaths and injuries, and billions in property damage, from rear-end crashes.
The formal petition by Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety, and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator and now President Emeritus of Public Citizen, asks the agency to support Automatic Emergency Braking, a set of three technologies that use combinations of radar, lidar (reflected laser light) and cameras to prevent collisions.
The technologies are:
• Forward Collision Warning, which alerts a motorist (via audio or visual signals) that a collision with a car in front is imminent;
• Crash Imminent Braking, which intervenes when the driver does not respond to the Forward Collision Warning. It automatically applies the brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the vehicle’s speed at impact; and
• Dynamic Brake Support, which applies supplemental braking when the braking applied by the driver is insufficient to avoid a collision.
The petition argues that the technologies are proven and already preventing accidents in higher-end vehicles. It also notes that in October, NHTSA agreed to consider whether to order manufacturers to install the equipment in heavy vehicles like trucks.
NHTSA has also incorporated the collision-avoidance systems into its car rating system, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), the petition notes.
“There is no reason to distinguish between the dangers posed by heavy vehicles, such as trucks, and those posed by light vehicles, such as cars,” says the petition, authored by Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and now counsel to the organization.
“As helpful as the rating system is when it comes to comparison shopping, a binding regulation is the only way to ensure the minimum safety of every motorist on the road, not just those who can afford the most expensive luxury vehicles,” the petition argues.
The safety advocates urged NHTSA not to allow carmakers to establish the collision avoidance systems through voluntary self-regulation, saying the "promotion of motor vehicle safety through voluntary standards has largely failed."