Pace of technology: Automatic braking for cars

Federal regulators and the auto industry are taking a more lenient approach than safety advocates would like when it comes to phasing in automatic braking systems for passenger cars, according to records of their private negotiations.  The technology automatically applies brakes to prevent or mitigate collisions, rather than waiting for the driver to react. While such systems are already available in dozens of car models, typically as a pricey option on higher-end vehicles, they should be standard in all new cars, according to safety advocates.  But instead of mandating it, the government is trying to work out a voluntary agreement with automakers in hopes of getting it in cars more quickly. The Associated Press has obtained the Meeting minutes from three of the meetings that NHTSA has held with automakers since October which show that the government is considering granting significant concessions.  Records of the third negotiating session, on Nov. 12, show that automatic braking systems would be allowed that slow vehicles by as little as 5 mph before a collision. Furthermore, manufacturers may be allowed to exempt 5 percent of their vehicles from the standard with an additional exemption for models that manufacturers intend to phase out or redesign.  The minutes don’t specify a model year by which the technology would have to be included in cars, but the group did decide that discussion of any deadline would begin with “the latest date submitted by any automaker” for when they would be ready to make the change. Meeting participants included NHTSA, 16 automakers, two auto industry trade groups and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the insurance industry’s safety research arm). Representatives from Transport Canada, the Canadian government’s auto safety regulator, also attended. NHTSA estimates show that there are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the U.S., killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about $47 billion annually. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision.  NHTSA announced last year that it will include automatic braking and other collision-avoidance technologies in its five-star safety rating program to encourage automakers to more widely adopt the technology. In an unusually pointed criticism, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, said in a report last year that “slow and insufficient action” by NHTSA to develop performance standards for automatic braking and collision warning systems and to require the technologies in cars and trucks “has contributed to the ongoing and unacceptable frequency of rear-end crashes.”

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