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Twenty major automakers on Thursday will commit to make automatic emergency braking a standard safety feature by 2022, according to several sources familiar with the plan. The commitment marks a major step toward a future when all cars have the ability to pilot themselves.

Automatic braking, already offered on a number of current models, uses cameras, radar and other sensors to determine if a crash is imminent and automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough. An industry-wide implementation of the collision-avoiding feature would save thousands of lives per year and prevent millions of crashes while only slightly increasing vehicle cost, according to an auto insurance industry group.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will make the announcement Thursday in Virginia. They will be joined by officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Consumer Reports and others.

Most major automakers — including Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors Co., Hyundai Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. — will make the commitment, according to the sources, who wished to remain anonymous because the plan had not been made official. The agreement will cover nearly all light-duty cars and trucks, although automakers will have a slightly longer timetable to add the capability to certain vehicles with manual transmissions.

“Automatic emergency braking systems already have already been proliferating and are an essential element to the autonomous vehicles that are coming in the future,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Autotrader.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, speaking Wednesday evening at the Autonomous Car Detroit conference in Dearborn, wouldn’t comment directly on Thursday’s announcement. But he cited the agency’s goal to work with automakers to implement safety features to reduce traffic deaths.

“We need a higher bar if we’re going to get to zero,” Rosekind said. “Safety technology offers us that opportunity.”

Roughly 32,675 people died in auto accidents in 2014, Rosekind said. That number will likely jump when statistics are compiled for 2015.

IIHS has estimated as many as 1.9 million total crashes could be prevented or be made less severe each year if all vehicles in the U.S. were equipped with forward-collision braking systems. The National Transportation Safety Board has said that almost half of all two-vehicle crashes involved one running into the rear of another; about 1,700 are killed and 500,000 injured every year as a result.

“This agreement is great news from a safety standpoint, but the reality is cars will need automatic braking, along with a host of other autonomous-oriented features, by 2022 just to be competitive,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “The incremental cost of adding these high-tech driver aids is dropping every year, which is good for automakers because consumers are quickly coming to expect them, even on lower-priced models.”

Consumer Reports, which has been fighting to make the technology standard, has estimated the price-per-car for a frontal-collision warning system is $250 to $400.

“We have been calling on automakers to make automatic emergency braking standard in all new vehicles, and today is an important step toward reaching that goal,” Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of automotive testing, said Wednesday. “This proven technology is the among the most promising safety advances we’ve seen since electronic stability control almost two decades ago.”

Consumer Reports last year called for automatic emergency braking to become standard on all cars.

Fisher said earlier this year in Detroit that vehicles equipped with safety features like forward collision prevention systems and automatic emergency braking are rated better by the influential magazine: “For the first time ever, we’re taking into account those particular active safety features ... if they are standard equipment, will have an impact on the overall score.”

Automatic emergency braking is now available on a number of models for all automakers. Ford, for example, calls the technology “forward collision warning” and first introduced it on a few 2010 model-year vehicles. It’s currently available on a dozen cars.

Thursday’s announcement will be a follow-up to a January agreement between automakers and government officials to collaboratively enhance safety efforts.

Last September, 10 automakers promised to add automatic emergency braking, but no timetable was set.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2401

Twitter.com/MikeMartinez_DN

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