Driver’s guide: What to know about automatic braking

Automatic braking technology started to emerge in the early 2000s as a means of boosting a driver’s braking efforts and tightening seat belts. Today, it has become more of a mainstream feature.
Automatic braking technology started to emerge in the early 2000s as a means of boosting a driver’s braking efforts and tightening seat belts. Today, it has become more of a mainstream feature. –IIHS

On November 2, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will consider automatic emergency braking technology as a criteria for its 5-Star Safety Rating System, overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The move applies to vehicles beginning in model year 2018.

In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained the department’s rationale.

“We are adding automatic emergency braking features to the 5-Star Rating System because crash-avoidance technology can save lives and should be widely available,’’ said Foxx in a release.

Foxx added that automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems “can substantially enhance safety, especially with the number of distracted drivers on the road.’’

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What is automatic emergency braking?

AEB systems rely on a radar or sensor system to determine if a rear-end crash is imminent and the driver isn’t doing enough to avoid the impact.

Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), praised the ability of AEBs to protect motorists and passengers in a crash.

“Research is showing AEBs are preventing crashes,’’ Rader told Boston.com in a phone interview. “Even if not preventing crashes, they are reducing their severity.’’

Automatic emergency braking systems can include “crash imminent’’ braking, which applies a vehicle’s brakes when the driver isn’t doing anything to prevent a collision. It can also amplify the vehicle’s brakes if the driver isn’t braking sufficiently.

Where did it come from?

Automatic braking technology started to emerge in the early 2000s as a means of boosting a driver’s braking efforts and tightening seat belts.

In 2002, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its “Pre-Safe’’ system at the Paris Motor Show. It could tighten seat belts, adjust seat positions, and lift folded head rests if a possible crash was detected.

In 2003, Toyota launched the first “pre-collision system’’ in Japan’s domestic market on the Harrier. This system also offered a seat belt-tightening system and “brake assist’’ technology (aka automatic brake amplification). That same year, Honda introduced the first “collision mitigation system’’ (CMS) on the now-defunct Inspire model that automatically applied a vehicle’s brakes if a potential crash was detected.

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Acura was the first automaker to introduce a car with an automatic braking option to the US market with the 2006 RL model.

How easy is it to get?

Today, Rader estimates automatic braking technology is available on more than a quarter of new vehicle models. He predicts these systems will grow more common as time goes on. The recent move by the NHTSA to consider automatic braking in its 5-Star Ratings underscores the potential of the technology to save lives, he says.

“It shows how important this type of system is for making vehicles safer,’’ said Rader. How much safer? Vehicles equipped with the AEBs are 14 percent less likely to experience a crash than the vehicles without the technology.

So how much does it cost to add an automatic braking? While it was once only available on luxury vehicles, the technology is growing more mainstream. However, prices to add the options vary between automakers. Toyota and Lexus charge consumers a few hundred dollars for the automatic braking option, while General Motors charges $1,200 to add the feature to its non-luxury lineup.

Rader says the 2016 Scion iA will be the first car priced below $18,000 that offers automatic braking technology as a standard feature.

IIHS began researching the systems a few years ago and began issuing ratings of front-crash prevention systems (another term for automatic braking) in 2013. Two years later, the institute requires vehicles to have automatic braking available as an option to be considered for its Top Safety Pick+ award, its highest honor.

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“This technology is helping reduce crashes and prevent crashes from happening altogether,’’ said Rader. “It’s going to become more and more common in the future.’’

IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Winners of 2015

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