10 Automakers Promise Automatic Emergency Braking in All Their U.S. Cars

Automatic emergency braking will be standard but not mandatory

2 min read
10 Automakers Promise Automatic Emergency Braking in All Their U.S. Cars
Photo: Patrick Keen/Getty

Automatic emergency braking that can prevent car collisions may save many lives before the mainstream arrival of self-driving robot cars. Ten of the top automakers have taken a historic step by pledging to install such braking technology in all future car models sold in the United States. But some safety advocates still want the U.S. government to make automatic emergency braking mandatory.

Emergency automatic braking technology usually relies on radar, cameras or lasers to detect impending collisions and warn the driver. The braking kicks in automatically if the drivers don’t react in time. Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo have all committed to working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration toward putting the braking technology in all their car models, according to the Los Angeles Times. The ten automakers represent about 57 percent of U.S. auto sales.

“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 Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary, in a press release on 11 September. "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.”

Such safety technology could either prevent or reduce the consequences of an estimated 80 percent of rear-end collisions that cause 1,700 deaths and half a million injuries each year, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Insurance Institute for Auto Safety—an industry group also involved in the automakers’ commitment—estimates the effort could reduce insurance injury claims by up to 35 percent. But the exact capabilities of the automatic braking systems varies depending on the automaker.

Safety advocates don’t think the recent pledge goes far enough. Some suggested that the automakers’ commitment merely represented a “backroom deal” to avoid stricter government regulation, according to the Associated Press. Clarence Ditlow, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, said that the government should make such braking systems a legal requirement for all cars.

“This can’t be voluntary,” Ditlow said in a press release. “This needs a mandated safety standard with rigorous performance measures that trigger a recall if an auto maker doesn’t meet them.”

Such automatic safety features represent yet another step on the road to having fully automated, self-driving robot cars. Big automakers such as Toyota have begun developing better artificial intelligence that could enhance near-future vehicles without completely taking the steering wheel away from human drivers. But Google, Apple and other tech giants have been testing fully driverless vehicles that could eventually make for much safer roads.

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Self-Driving Cars Work Better With Smart Roads

Intelligent infrastructure makes autonomous driving safer and less expensive

9 min read
A photograph shows a single car headed toward the viewer on the rightmost lane of a three-lane road that is bounded by grassy parkways, one side of which is planted with trees. In the foreground a black vertical pole is topped by a crossbeam bearing various instruments. 

This test unit, in a suburb of Shanghai, detects and tracks traffic merging from a side road onto a major road, using a camera, a lidar, a radar, a communication unit, and a computer.

Shaoshan Liu

Enormous efforts have been made in the past two decades to create a car that can use sensors and artificial intelligence to model its environment and plot a safe driving path. Yet even today the technology works well only in areas like campuses, which have limited roads to map and minimal traffic to master. It still can’t manage busy, unfamiliar, or unpredictable roads. For now, at least, there is only so much sensory power and intelligence that can go into a car.

To solve this problem, we must turn it around: We must put more of the smarts into the infrastructure—we must make the road smart.

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