Giving us a brake: How automakers will make driving a lot safer by 2022


You’ve probably seen the TV commercials by now.

A driver not paying attention to the road ahead and his car automatically braking to avoid an accident –Volkswagen Passat’s “Dad, Stop!” and Hyundai’s “Dad’s Sixth Sense” come to mind.

But those probably are just the start as automakers speed toward standard automatic braking systems.

Technology to prevent accidents (not just make them more survivable) is standard on a few models sold in the United States and is just around the corner on most of the rest after an agreement among 20 automakers with a nudge (OK, a push) from the government, insurers and car-safety advocates.

Volkswagen Passat “Dad, Stop!” video.

And at least one company already plans to get ahead of the agreement by making automatic emergency braking technology standard on most of its vehicles by next year.

“It’s an exciting time for vehicle safety,” said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Safety secretary. “By proactively making emergency braking systems standard equipment on their vehicles, these 20 automakers will help prevent thousands of crashes and save lives.”

Automatic braking systems employ several technologies – cameras, radar and other sensors – to identify objects in the road ahead and slow or stop a vehicle if the driver doesn’t react. The expectation is that such systems will save lives, prevent injuries and reduce property damage in rear-end collisions.

SETTING THE STANDARD

The agreement requires that automatic emergency braking be standard on most cars and light trucks by Sept. 1, 2022, with similar systems on SUVs and heavier pickups not later than Sept. 1, 2025.

Companies participating in the “far reaching” agreement are Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

But Toyota plans to beat the 2022 deadline by five years on 25 of 30 Toyota and luxury Lexus models.

That alone would more than double fewer than 20 models industrywide with standard systems, although another 70 models offer automatic braking as an option.

COMMITTED TO A BETTER WAY

“We are committed to creating better ways to move for everyone,” said Jim Lenz, CEO of Toyota North America. “High-level driver assist technologies can do more than help protect people in the event of a crash, they can help prevent some crashes from ever happening in the first place.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than half of rear-end collisions could be avoided or their severity reduced by automatic braking or warning systems.

“We have been calling on automakers to make automatic emergency braking standard in all new vehicles, and [this] is an important step toward reaching that goal,” said Jake Fisher of Consumer Reports, which will assist the NHTSA and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in monitoring automaker progress toward meeting the commitment.

“This proven technology is among the most promising safety advances we’ve seen since electronic stability control almost two decades ago.”

Said the Transportation secretary: “It’s a win for safety and a win for consumers.”

Mercedes-Benz “The Uncrashable Toy Cars” commercial.