braking car

Automatic braking could prevent one million accidents a year but automakers dither

Crash prevention technology could prevent thousands of deaths and injuries every year according to regulators but the industry’s major players are moving slowly when it comes to widespread deployment in their vehicles.

This is despite a concerted push to launch self-driving cars, which will use some form of the technology, as early as 2021.

Nissan said on Thursday it would make automatic braking systems standard on an estimated one million 2018 model cars and light trucks sold in the USA, including high-volume models such as the Rogue and Rogue Sport compact sport utility vehicles, the Altima sedan, Murano and Pathfinder SUVs, LEAF electric car, Maxima sedan and Sentra small car.

Nissan sold about 1.6 million vehicles in the US last year.

Rival Toyota has said it will make so-called automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all its US models by the end of this year.

Overall, however, most automakers are not rushing to make automatic brake systems part of the base cost of mainstream vehicles sold in the competitive US market. The industry has come under pressure from regulators, lawmakers and safety advocates to adopt the technology, which can slow or stop a vehicle even if the driver fails to act.

So far, only about 17 per cent of models tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offered standard collision-avoiding braking, according to data supplied by the auto safety research-group-backed insurance industry. Many of the models with standard collision-avoiding brake systems are luxury vehicles made by European or Japanese manufacturers.

The systems require more sensors and software than conventional brakes, and automakers said they need time to engineer the systems into vehicles as part of more comprehensive makeovers.

Last year, 20 automakers reached a voluntary agreement with US auto safety regulators to make collision-avoiding braking systems standard equipment by 2022.

Safety advocates have petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin a regulatory process to require the technologies, but the agency has said the voluntary agreement will result in faster deployment than a formal rule-making process. NHTSA says the technology could eliminate one-fifth of crashes.

“Do the math. That’s five million crashes every year – 20 per cent reduction means one million less. Those are big numbers,” Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA’s then-administrator, said last year.

But customers would likely experience the benefits of the technology infrequently. The technology to enable a car to drive itself is far more costly, but industry executives foresee autonomous vehicles driving revenue-generating transportation services that could be attractive to investors.

General Motors offers automatic braking as optional equipment on about two-thirds of its models. The company did not say on Thursday how many vehicles have the technology as standard equipment. GM has not made public its plans to make the technology standard across its line-up.

“Any time you have a voluntary agreement you have a spectrum of implementation,” Jeff Boyer, GM’s vice president for safety said recently. Asked when GM would roll out standard automatic braking, Boyer said, “let’s just say we honour the voluntary commitment”.

Ford “has a plan to standardise over time”, the company said in a statement on Thursday. Currently, automatic braking systems are optional on several 2017 Ford and Lincoln models, and will be offered on certain 2018 models including the best-selling F-150 pickup truck.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV offers automatic braking as optional equipment in nine model lines, using cameras and radar to detect hazards ahead. The company has said it will meet the 2022 target for making the systems standard.

The added cost of including the technology in vehicles is significant. For example a 2017 Nissan Sentra compact sedan has a starting price of $17,875 (£14,017). But to buy the car equipped with automatic braking requires spending another $6,820 for a Sentra SR with a premium technology package.

In April a study found that repairing potholes could become a major priority once driverless cars become commonplace.

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