RUCKERSVILLE, Va. -- A broad group of automakers have agreed in principle to equip all their new vehicles with automatic emergency braking technology as a standard feature in the near future.
The group -- which includes Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo -- will work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the next few months to hammer out details of the agreement and a timeline for implementing it across their lineups.
The agreement was announced by U.S. officials and IIHS President Adrian Lund at a dedication event for the safety group’s newly expanded vehicle research center here.
"There’s always going to be a need for regulations to keep the public safe," NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind said. "This is a new convention and a new pact. NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) and IIHS programs will continue, and regulations are still available, and we use all paths to save lives. The industry in this case though, hasn’t waited for regulation."
Automatic emergency braking systems use sensors including radar, cameras or lasers to detect an imminent collision and apply the brakes automatically to either slow or stop the car if the driver doesn’t respond in time. The technology is becoming more widely available on modern cars but almost always as an optional feature included in packages of advanced safety technologies that can add thousands of dollars to a vehicle’s price.
According to IIHS, just 1 percent of 2015 model year vehicles included automatic braking as a standard feature, while 26 percent included the technology as an option.
“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 of this new era,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. These 10 companies are committing to making AEB available to all new-car buyers.”
IIHS, which is funded by the insurance industry, says the technology can reduce insurance claims for injuries by up to 35 percent. The influential safety group already has incorporated automatic braking systems into its safety rating system for vehicles. To earn the group’s highest rating, Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle must receive an “advanced” or “superior” rating for front-crash prevention; only vehicles with automatic brakes qualify for those ratings.
“Most crashes involve driver error,” Lund said in a statement. “This technology can compensate for the mistakes every driver makes because the systems are always on alert, monitoring the road ahead and never getting tired or distracted.”
The pact idea originated with Nat Beuse, associate administrator for vehicle safety research at NHTSA, and David Zuby at IIHS's chief research officer, spokesman for both groups said.
NHTSA has been slow to issue mandates for crash-prevention technology, but it has taken steps to encourage wider adoption of automatic braking. In January, the agency added it to a list of recommended safety technologies that are noted on window stickers as a way to inform consumers, but it stopped short of making it mandatory under its crash-test ratings program.
The agreement with the automakers poses an implicit challenge to several others that were not part of the commitment announced today, including Nissan, Honda, Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru.
In the statement, the Transportation Department and IIHS encouraged all automakers to bring automatic braking technology to all cars “as soon as possible.”
Jeff Boyer, GM's vice president of global vehicle safety, said in a statement the company supports the voluntary industry safety agreement that would make forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking standard technology on light vehicles.
"Both technologies are available today on dozens of 2016 model Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models. Thirty-seven models are available with forward collision alert -- accounting for more than 1 million vehicles on the road -- and 19 models offer both forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking," Boyer said in the statement.
Analysts say it could take several years for automakers to redesign the electrical and braking systems of their cars to install autonomous braking. Among the automotive technology suppliers that could benefit from widespread adoption of autonomous braking are Continental AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi Automotive Plc, Denso Corp. and Autoliv Inc.
Wells Fargo analysts David Lim and Rich Kwas said in a report today that Delphi, Magna International Inc. and Mobileye NV could benefit from the growth of the technology.
Reuters and Automotive News staff contributed to this report.
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