NHTSA To Suggest (But Not Require) Sensor-Enabled Brakes For All New Vehicles

Consumers could soon have a longer list of recommended safety features to look for when setting out to buy a new car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced plans Thursday to change its vehicle safety rating program to include two sensor-based automatic emergency braking systems, but the agency won’t go so far as to mandate automakers’ use of the systems.

The Detroit News reports that the changes to the New Car Assessment Program include the addition of crash imminent breaking and dynamic brake support.

Crash-imminent braking automatically stops a car if sensors detect a possible crash, while dynamic braking adds force to the brakes if the driver isn’t pressing hard enough to avoid a crash.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the agency won’t require the safety devices in new cars just yet, but adding the technology to the list recommended safety features does put pressure on car manufactures to include the systems if they want higher safety ratings from NHTSA.

“Today marks an enormous leap in the evolution of auto safety by encouraging adoption of new technologies to keep drivers and their passengers safe on our roads,” Foxx said at a meeting with automotive engineers in Washington. “Making it very clear that the technology will be one of the criteria on which auto manufacturers are graded is a pretty big step. They all want to be a five-star company.”

The Detroit News reports that back in May 2013, NHTSA first said it would consider requiring the technology in all future vehicles. At the time, regulators were in the process of conducting research on the systems that dynamically engage brakes without driver input to avoid impending crashes.

Regulators say the sensor-based technology could help to save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives each year by warning inattentive drivers or by intervening to prevent crashes. According to NHTSA data, nearly 60% of fatal highway accidents are caused by inattentive drivers.

NHTSA researchers found that one-third of police reported crashes in 2013 involved rear-end collisions; a large number of those crashes were a result of drivers not applying the brakes or not fully braking.

Foxx says that in the past regulators found it difficult to address driver errors while trying to reduce vehicle fatality rates, but that new technology can act as an agency tool to supplant a driver’s judgement.

The new recommendations won’t take effect until after a 60 day public commenting period. Then NHTSA will have to respond before the recommendations appear on the agency’s website.

If the proposal gets approval it will mark the first time since 2010 that NHTSA has made changes to its “Stars on Cars” program.

U.S. urges automatic braking systems, but won’t mandate [The Detroit News]