It’s an important safety advance, automatic emergency braking, and it will be on all cars (light trucks, too) by 2022. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t even have to force automakers to do it. They volunteered.
NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety got together in September of 2015 and challenged the auto industry to make emergency braking a standard feature. Maybe they grumbled about it a little bit, but they got in line.
The technology, which will be complemented by required front collision warning, is pretty much what the name implies. If you get distracted by screaming kids in the back seat or a new Adele song, the car’s still on the watch—it notices you’re about to slam into the car ahead and jams on the brakes. You may still hit the other vehicle, but the impact will be greatly diminished. Today, lots of cars warn us of collisions, but they don’t do anything but beep at us.
There’s Obama Administration precedent here, because the same automakers agreed early in the President’s term to accept tough federal fuel economy rules mandating 54.5 mpg by 2025. The consensus was that the government might have imposed something worse, so better to have industry buy-in on a plan.
In a statement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “By proactively making emergency braking systems standard equipment on their vehicles, these 20 automakers will help prevent thousands of crashes and save lives. It’s a win for safety and a win for consumers.”
Agreed, and it’s happening faster than if the mandate had gone through the usual federal rule-making process—we’d be looking at 2024. That means a lot of people would die unnecessarily who could have been saved by the system, which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which helped broker the deal, says could reduce rear collisions by a whopping 40 percent. Fewer than 10 percent of cars are now getting the feature as standard equipment.
The automakers on board represent virtually all of the available showroom models, and they include Ford, GM, FCA, Audi, BMW, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche and Subaru. I don’t see Ferrari on the list, and there’s a car that definitely could use automatic braking.
The deal undoubtedly is backed enthusiastically by Foxx, but it also bears the stamp of new NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, who’s a very impatient type when it comes to safety advances. As Automotive News reports, Rosekind has “prioritized speed in cementing safety improvements across the industry over adherence to agency procedure.”
There has been some squawking from former administrators about failing to follow the rules, but I don’t see the point. As long as the automakers agree to use the latest and safest no-compromises version of the technology, and get it on all cars as soon as possible, we can skip the “rulemaking” and public comment period.
Rosekind said, “A commitment of this magnitude is unprecedented, and it will bring more safety to more Americans sooner.” Well, maybe it’s not completely unprecedented, but it’s still very good news.
Consumer Reports is going to be involved, monitoring automakers’ progress in making the tech ready for prime time in 2022. CU’s Jake Fisher said, “We have been calling on automakers to make automatic emergency braking standard in all new vehicles, and today is an important step toward reaching that goal. This proven technology is among the most promising safety advances we’ve seen since electronic stability control almost two decades ago.”
Here's some Detroit News video about the announcement: