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Safety agency tries new approach to implement AEB systems

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seems to be working with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. Our post earlier this week focused on the agency's decision to oversee the Takata air bag recall to make sure it is handled properly. And more recently, the NHTSA announced that it is pursuing wider adoption of braking technology that could save lives.

One of the latest and greatest new safety features to be offered in vehicles these days is automatic emergency braking, or AEB. Vehicles with AEB systems employ sensors, cameras and other detection devices to determine when a collision is imminent. The system can then automatically apply the brakes to either stop the vehicle before it crashes or slow down the vehicle to mitigate the crash forces. AEB systems can usually detect danger faster than humans can, which means they can compensate for slow reaction time.

It is easy to see the safety benefits of automatic emergency braking - including a reduction in car accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians. But like all new vehicle technology, many car companies currently offer AEB systems as an expensive add-on rather than a standard feature.

When a given piece of technology is deemed highly important for safety, the NHTSA typically initiates a rule-making process to require it in new vehicles. But this process (including a required phase-in period) can take up to eight years. For AEB systems, the NHTSA is trying a different approach: peer pressure.

The agency has already received commitments from 10 auto companies to make AEB systems a standard feature in the near future. In doing so, it hopes to pressure all automakers to adopt the same standard in order to stay competitive.

The pace of technological development is such that the AEB systems available in seven or eight years could be vastly superior to those available today. Hopefully, by pushing for standardization sooner, the NHTSA is encouraging innovation even as it seeks to save lives.

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