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U.S. Gov’t Wants Automakers to Put Self-braking Cars on the Road

A lot of rear-end collisions are because humans don't brake. So let the cars do it

1 min read
U.S. Gov’t Wants Automakers to Put Self-braking Cars on the Road
Photo: Romilly Lockyer/Getty Images

Late last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced two new additions to the federal department’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), which recommends advanced safety features. Foxx said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will push automakers to include two automatic emergency braking systems that it predicts will save thousands of lives each year.

One, crash imminent braking, applies the brakes if the vehicle senses that a collision is about to happen and the driver fails to act. The other, dynamic brake support, kicks in if the driver does depress the brake pedal, but misjudges how much force to apply. It will supplement the driver's braking effort in order to slow the car before a collision or to at least lessen the severity of the crash.

According to an NHTSA press release, the agency requested public comment in 2013 regarding how it should update NCAP:

Many commenters were very positive about the potential benefit of [automatic emergency braking] technology, which today's action addresses. Commenters also had input on other ways NHTSA could further improve NCAP and the agency plans to seek comment on additional program changes in the future.

The NHTSA says that one-third of all police-reported crashes in 2013 involved at least one car being rear-ended by another. Accident scene data and information pulled from event data recorders (the automobile version of airplane black boxes), says the NHTSA press release, indicates that a large number of drivers involved in rear-end crashes either did not apply the brakes at all or did not fully apply them.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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