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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Ending rear enders


You’ve likely heard the recent announcement that autonomous emergency braking will become standard on most cars within six years.  That will not end rear end collisions, but will begin to “put the brakes” on proliferation of such wrecks.

Whether it is cell phones, vehicle devices, rubbernecking or simple daydreaming, all drivers continue to be subject to distraction while driving.  When that inevitable distraction is timed with the rise of an emergency braking situation, the affected driver may not react, or react too late to avoid a collision.  An automatic system is never distracted.

Vehicles so-equipped will automatically apply the brakes when the autonomous system, guided by radar, cameras and computer software, senses via too-rapid “closing speed” that the driver is not paying due attention or is otherwise failing to react to an emergency.  There is a Volkswagen commercial demonstrating the advantage of this as a distracted father dropping his daughter off at school is spared an accident when a car pulls in front of him and stops.  Mercedes Benz also touts their system with audio stating, “With this crash test, there was no crash,” along with video showing their vehicle stopping itself before striking an object.

It’s a simple concept:  When drivers are distracted, as they so often are, the on-board radar/camera/computerized/electrically-activated-brake system will apply the brakes in time to avoid a crash.  And while avoiding rear-end collisions will represent much of the worthiness of autonomous braking, countless other emergency situations will be safeguarded automatically.

Though some cars already have this safety feature, twenty automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz, Nissan and Honda have agreed to include autonomous emergency braking systems as standard equipment on their entire lineup by 2022.

The concept may be simple, but its development and mandatory implementation is not.  Besides the thousands of hours and dollars spent in research and testing, there was lots of “behind the scenes” bureaucratic activity leading to the recent announcement.

It was essentially a victory for Mark Rosekind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief who has strived to achieve a cooperative climate between the agency and automakers during his office tenure.

He and his boss, Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, have strived to pressure the auto industry to embrace improved safety technology and practices of their own cognition as opposed to reacting to mandates.

According to Rosekind, “Too often, safety efforts in the past have been determined by what government could force manufacturers to do and what manufacturers could avoid doing.”  He does not feel that this model is effective enough in an American driving environment where nearly 100 lives per day are lost.

To speed auto manufacturer cooperation on autonomous braking, Rosekind enlisted partnership with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, leveraging the insurer-funded group’s regimen, testing and rating system, which automakers already know and respect.

The IIHS has been rigorously testing and rating autonomous braking since 2013, so there was plenty of positive data available to influence universal adoption for consumer application.  Coupling that data with the automakers’ vulnerable safety records and recall history, a voluntary agreement was reached to make autonomous braking available on virtually all autos sold in the United States by 2022.

It is now hoped that this non-forced agreement will get automakers in the habit of bringing safety technology to the market sooner and more frequently than has happened during the old government mandate method.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at