Cars That Stop Themselves: 10 Automakers Promise To Make Them Standard

Ten automakers accounting for more than half of U.S. auto sales pledged to make automatic emergency braking standard on new U.S. vehicles, in one of the nation’s biggest auto-safety announcements since the introduction of standard airbags in the late 1980s.

The car makers — Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo — will work out an implementation plan in coming months with auto safety regulators and experts, the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said in a statement on Friday.

“We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes begin,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the IIHS statement.

“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,” he added.

The pledge, combined with the IIHS’ move to make automatic emergency braking systems part of its “Top Safety Pick” award system, will put pressure on those automakers who weren’t part of the announcement Friday to add the technology.

The agreement echoes earlier moves by big automakers. In the late 1980s, Chrysler began installing airbags in all its vehicles. In the 2000s, GM, Ford and others agreed to make anti-rollover technology standard on most sport utility vehicles in response to mounting deaths from rollover accidents in such vehicles. Stability control is now mandatory on light vehicles.

Automatic emergency breaking, or AEB, is widely recognized as a life-saving technology that uses radar, cameras and lasers to monitor road conditions and an apply brakes autonomously to avoid or lessen the severity of collisions. 

But analysts say it could take several years for automakers to redesign the electrical and braking systems of their cars to install autonomous braking. The technology is currently available as an option in only about 4 percent of cars in North America, according to the business information firm IHS Inc. 

And there are no standards for how such systems should work. Tests by the IIHS have found a wide variety of automation, from systems that only warn if a collision is likely with a light amount of braking, to a few from BMW and Hyundai that attempt to fully stop a car if a collision seems imminent.

Several automakers previously signaled plans to offer autonomous braking on more vehicles. Toyota said earlier this year said that by the end of 2017 it would offer such systems in option packages for nearly all its models, with the technology packages ranging from $300 to about $500 in price.

Federal officials say AEB can help avoid rear-end collisions, which accounted for one-third of all police-reported car crashes in 2013. Studies, including a recent IIHS report, also show that AEB technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.

IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will set performance criteria for manufacturers and determine how soon car buyers can expect to see AEB technology as standard equipment.