Safety system will become mandatory on virtually all vehicles by 2022
On March 17, automakers announced that nearly all US cars will incorporate automatic emergency braking technology by 2022.
Thanks to a deal between the major car manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), manufacturers will be required to use automatic braking on all but a few specified older models. According to industry insiders, this is the biggest development in auto safety since the introduction of electronic stability control (ESC).
Auto-braking has the potential to save lives, prevent injuries and significantly reduce property damage. An analysis of 2013 data conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revealed that 13 percent of crashes could have been prevented - that's some 700,000 car accidents.
This technology is particularly effective at preventing rear-end collisions, which are becoming more and more prevalent thanks to distracted and fatigued drivers. Even in cases where automatic braking doesn't avoid a collision entirely, it can often reduce injuries and property damage by reducing speed at impact.
Auto-braking one of many new safety systems
Auto manufacturers have been working to make cars safer for as long as cars have been on the road, and in recent years, a wide variety of new safety systems have hit the market to somewhat mixed results. For instance, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), which are intended to improve vehicle control while braking, have not resulted in a decrease in accidents. However, elements of ABS technology have been incorporated into ESC systems, which have reduced accidents.
Another safety innovation is adaptive headlight technology. Adaptive headlights are designed to turn in the direction of travel as the vehicle navigates curves. They do work - but some research indicates that they work too well. Studies have shown that vehicles with adaptive headlights avoid several kinds of accidents, not just those that involve curves, suggesting that differences in brightness and beam pattern might be responsible for improved safety rather than the adaptive technology itself.
Other new safety systems include blind-spot warnings, lane-departure warnings and back-up sensors, all of which can warn the driver when the vehicle is close to a collision. At the moment, the evidence is still unclear on most of those technologies.
With any new safety technology, there's always the possibility of risk compensation - that is, motorists will drive more aggressively and depend on the safety system to pick up the slack. It's important to remember that even though hi-tech safety features can help to prevent accidents, drivers still have a responsibility to stay safe on the road, and they should still be held accountable when they cause accidents that injure others.