The Impact of the IIHS Automatic Braking Technology

In March 2016, the automotive industry received exciting news concerning vehicle safety. While this announcement has actually been a feature available in the United States since 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also known as the NHTSA, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, announced that Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) would be a “standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the US by 2022.” In other words, through this mutual agreement of over 20 different major car makers and the US government, all new vehicles will be sold with automatic emergency braking included in their safety features from that year forward. As this has been seen for some time as mainly a “luxury” feature, this is both exciting and revolutionary news for automotive safety innovation and advancement.

Press releases from car manufacturers across the internet are booming with praise over this announcement. Car makers, including Audi, BMW, General Motors, and Toyota - to name a few - have already started equipping their vehicles with their own AEB systems and each are singing praises for this new vehicle safety fundamental. Shortly following the NHTSA announcement, Toyota released a statement that it planned to have their AEB systems standard on “almost every model by the end of 2017” and General Motors even went as far as to proceed with a “newly-opened Active-Safety Testing area” sparked by the AEB requirement. It’s safe to say the industry is excited too.

The impact on safety

The Automatic Emergency Braking, or AEB, is a safety system, controlled by its own computer, that can sense and then evade a collision by braking the vehicle without driver input. The NHTSA projects that the requirement for “automatic emergency braking would prevent an estimated 28,000 collisions and 12,000 injuries.” This seemingly unanimous praise is completely understandable considering these and other safety statistics being released by NHTSA regarding prevention of collisions and injuries.

While it is natural to be excited about any advancement in vehicle safety, many drivers and those involved in the automotive world are wondering what exactly this change means for considerations such as new vehicle purchase price, part cost for repairs, and time spent on maintenance and diagnostics. The more these questions answered, however, the more AEB requirements brings out the excitement for all of those involved.

How the AEB system works

The AEB system has a very important job. Once one of its sensors is activated, it needs to determine - in a split second - whether or not a vehicle is in need of a braking assistance. It then utilizes other systems in the vehicle, such as audible sounds from the stereo, to send a warning to the driver to brake. If the detection has been made but the driver does not respond, then the AEB system will take action to autonomously control the vehicle by braking, steering away, or both.

While AEB systems are specific to a car manufacturer and will vary in both name and form from one car maker to the next, most will use a combination of sensors to notify the computer for activation, such as GPS, radar, cameras, or even precise lasers. This will measure vehicle speed, position, distance, and location to other objects.

Positive effects

The amount of positive information in the automotive world regarding the NHTSA announcement is abundant, especially in regards to its biggest concern: safety results. It has become common knowledge that the majority of automotive crashes are caused by driver error. During regular braking, reaction time plays a huge part in stopping to avoid a collision. The driver’s brain is processing the speed of the vehicle along with traffic signs, lights, pedestrians and other vehicles, all of which are traveling at different speeds. Throw into that modern distractions such as billboard ads, radio, family members, and of course our beloved cell phones, and our drives seem doomed to distraction.

Times are really changing and requiring AEB systems in all vehicles allows us to evolve with the times. This introduction of an advancing technology can really compensate for the mistakes drivers make because, unlike the driver, the system is always on alert, constantly monitoring the road ahead, free from distractions. With the system working properly, this is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Collisions that do occur will be less severe due to the AEB system’s quick response time, not only protecting a driver but the passengers as well. The IIHS states that “AEB systems can reduce auto insurance injury claims by as much as 35%.”

But will there be extra maintenance costs? AEB systems are pretty much set up with sensors and the computer that controls them. So routine maintenance should (and for many automotive dealerships already does) include these inspections as well for little or no additional cost.

Negative effects

Not everything is unanimously positive about AEB systems. Like any other new technology claiming to be revolutionary, AEB systems raise some questions and concerns. For one, technology does not start off running perfectly - it takes trial and error to produce effective results. Currently, some AEB systems are still in the beginning phases of the production. Some are promising to bring the car to a complete stop before impact, while others only activate when a crash inevitably reduces the overall impact. Some can recognize pedestrians, while others can only currently detect other vehicles. A similar situation happened with the introduction of the supplemental restraint system as well with the anti-lock braking system and electronic stability control. It will take time before the system is completely fool proof.

Common complaints regarding AEB systems include phantom braking, false positive collision alarms, and collisions that happen despite the AEB feature. These are concerns to keep in mind when sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle equipped with AEB.

As mentioned earlier, the system won't be the same across the board, as each automaker has its own software engineers with their own ideas of what the system should do. This can be seen as a negative as it leads to vast differences in how automatic braking works. This creates a new challenge for mechanics for keeping up with the many different AEB systems that vary from one manufacturer to the next. These trainings and updates may be easier for dealerships but may not be as straightforward for privately owned independent shops.

However, even these downsides can be looked at with a positive light. The more vehicles that come equipped with an AEB system, the more the system can be utilized, and when and if accidents do occur, manufacturers will be able to look at the data and continue to make improvements. This is a great thing. There is a very probable future where all vehicles are automated, decreasing accidents, and hopefully clearing up traffic in dense populations.

It is not a perfect system yet, but it is improving and it is exciting to see where this leads us in car technology. It is safe to assume that car owners and mechanics alike will agree that the positives that the AEB system brings in safety far outweighs the negatives.

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