By Ryan Beene, Crain News Service
RUCKERSVILLE, Va. (Sept. 15, 2015) — Federal safety regulators are putting automatic emergency braking on a faster track to becoming an industrywide standard.
Seeking to circumvent a prolonged rule-making process, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week secured a commitment from a diverse group of auto makers — including General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen A.G. — to equip all new vehicles with automatic brakes as a standard feature in the near future.
The agreement, orchestrated by NHTSA and its private-sector counterpart, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), aims to dramatically speed penetration of the nascent technology without the fuss and political overtones of a federal mandate. It also poses an implicit challenge to the industry to embrace crash-prevention technology, and could be a boon to leading suppliers in that market, including Delphi, Magna, Bosch, Continental, ZF TRW and Mobileye.
The auto makers in the pact “have committed to an important principle: AEB is a life-saving technology that should be available to every vehicle owner,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement Sept. 11, adding: “We encourage every other manufacturer to join this effort.”
Automatic emergency braking systems use sensors including radar, cameras or lasers to detect an imminent collision and apply the brakes automatically. The technology is becoming more widely available on modern cars, but mostly as part of option packages that can add thousands of dollars to a vehicle's price.
IIHS says that data from its insurer members show that the technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent. But just 1 percent of 2015 model vehicles came standard with automatic braking, while 26 percent offered it as an option.
NHTSA studied automatic-braking technology for years with an eye toward a possible mandate. But the agency says that enacting such a rule under its tortuous process, plus the mandatory phase-in period, would take seven to eight years.
“There's always going to be a need for regulations to keep the public safe,” Mr. Rosekind said Sept. 11 during a ceremony at the IIHS' newly expanded research center in Ruckersville, and those regulatory efforts will continue. “The industry, in this case though, hasn't waited for regulation.”
NHTSA's approach also takes into account the diversity of systems available in the marketplace. Some are designed to slow the car and mitigate the impact of a crash, for instance, while others can bring fast-moving vehicles to a stop before a collision. Whereas a federal mandate would strain to cover the full range of systems, the agreement is likely to give auto makers flexibility to use their preferred technology.
As of late last week, the auto makers and brands on board with the plan included Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. Collectively, according to NHTSA, they accounted for 57 percent of light-vehicle sales volume in 2014.
That leaves some big players on the sidelines, at least for now, including Honda, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia. Most of them offer automatic braking at least as an option on some models. They now face competitive pressure to get in line with the rest of the industry.