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U.S. to include rear-crash avoidance systems in safety ratings

November 6, 2015
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Nov. 2 that it will add automatic emergency braking to its five-star rating system starting in the 2018 model year, after first proposing the change in January.
The change comes after many major automakers agreed in September to voluntarily work together with NHTSA toward making the rear crash avoidance technology standard in future vehicles. The systems can prevent rear-end crashes or reduce the impact speed of those crashes by automatically applying the brakes.
"We are adding automatic emergency braking features to the 5-Star Rating System because crash-avoidance technologies can save lives and should be widely accessible," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "AEB can substantially enhance safety, especially with the number of distracted drivers on the road."
The NHTSA reports that rear end crashes account for about 1.7 million crashes annually, causing 1,000 deaths and 700,000 injuries — or 3 percent of all fatalities and 30 percent of all injuries. Automakers systems will need to pass NHTSA tests in order to be included as part of the ratings.
After several years of study, the NHTSA opted not to compel automakers to add the technology, instead proposing in January to include the technology in crash ratings.
The agency first included recommended advanced safety technologies as part of the 5-Star Rating System upgrade in 2011. The list first included electronic stability control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. In 2014, when ESC became mandatory for all new light vehicles, the NHTSA replaced ESC with another technology, rearview video systems. The NHTSA intends to remove rearview video systems as a recommended technology in model year 2019, when the technology will be standard equipment on all new light vehicles.
In September, 10 major vehicle manufacturers said they agreed in principle to make automatic emergency braking a standard feature on all future vehicles, but haven’t set a timeframe.
But officials said automakers will likely have a significant number of years before adding the technology to all vehicles — and it’s not clear what performance requirements will be included. There’s no penalty if automakers opt to not follow through.
Rosekind told reporters in September that it would take the agency at least seven or eight years before regulations could be written, finalized and in place to mandate the technology.
"We haven’t given up anything," Rosekind said. "This is not slow walking safety. This is like fast track. ... The only reason to do this is if it goes faster (than regulations). ... This is life-saving technology that everyone should have."
Rosekind said the agency hasn’t ruled out eventually proposing regulations to mandate the technology — and the agency has come under pressure from the National Transportation Safety Board to mandate it. "If this can’t get it done, we’ll do it," Rosekind said.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety President Adrian Lund said the group is looking for a commitment from automakers to standardize the technology before 2025. The sensor-based technology can detect a forward crash with another vehicle or pedestrian before it occurs, by alerting the driver to take corrective action or automatically applying brakes.
The companies that have agreed — BMW AG, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Mazda Motor Co, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, Tesla Motors Inc, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and its Audi AG unit and Volvo — will work with the IIHS and the NHTSA in the coming months on the details of implementing the commitment, including the timeline for making it a standard feature and the performance requirements.
The 10 manufacturers committing to standardizing the technology represented 57 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2014.
Automatic emergency braking include systems aimed at preventing the large number of crashes, especially rear-end crashes, in which drivers do not apply the brakes or fail to apply sufficient braking power. They use on-vehicle sensors such as radar, cameras or lasers to detect an imminent crash, warn the driver — and if the driver does not take sufficient action, engage the brakes.
A report from the IIHS says the technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent. The IIHS said as many as 20 percent of crashes could be prevented by the technology. "Do the math. That’s 5 million crashes every year — 20 percent reduction means 1 million less. Those are big numbers," Rosekind said.
Automakers have in recent years opposed new mandates, and say they could add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new car or truck. But in the European Union, automakers must now add the systems to get the highest rating in government crash tests.
Rosekind said last month he hopes to see a proposal from the group in the coming months.
In June, the National Transportation Safety Board urged NHTSA to do more to spur the introduction of forward collision-avoidance systems to keep cars from running into those in front of them.
Since 2012, the NTSB has asked NHTSA to mandate new safety technologies in all vehicles, which could dramatically reduce the number fatalities caused by driver distractions. But the auto safety agency hasn’t agreed to do so.
The NTSB first started calling for the development of vehicle technologies to help avoid crashes in the mid-1990s.