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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Plan B for distraction

Though we’ve advance decidedly since the days of unpredictable drum brakes, no seat belts, and outside rear-view mirrors being optional, there’s much more ahead.  After all, there are still over 100 traffic deaths annually in the U.S.  That’s why I’m enthused by development of certain reasonable driver assists aimed at safety. 

Auto-lock brakes have been standard since the 1990s — rear-view cameras are standard equipment now and automatic braking is about to go from optional to standard in most vehicles by 2022.  The technology is expected to cut the number of rear-end crashes in half, so  it’s not expected to end rear end collisions, but will  “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.  Mercedes Benz touts their system in a commercial, stating, “With this crash test, there was no crash,” along with video showing their vehicle stopping itself before it collides with 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.

Many automakers cars already have this safety feature, and twenty of them have agreed to include autonomous emergency braking systems as standard equipment on their 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.

Achieving the 2022 deadline was a victory for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which endeavored to achieve a cooperative climate with manufacturers.

The NHTSA prefers encouraging the auto industry to embrace improved safety technology and practices on their own as opposed to reacting to mandates.  They strive to avoid debate that devolves to what the agency wants versus what manufacturers can avoid.  The agency has a worthy role in an American driving environment where nearly 100 lives per day are lost.

To aid auto manufacturer cooperation on autonomous braking, the NHTSA partnered with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, employing the insurer-funded group’s regimen, testing and rating system, which automakers 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