Study: Automatic brakes not guaranteed to stop cars

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – — Automatic braking systems that will soon be standard on all U.S. vehicles are not guaranteed to bring cars to a full stop, according to testing conducted by the AAA auto club.

The Heathrow, Florida-based organization found in a test of five 2016 model-year vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking systems that self-braking systems that are designed to prevent crashes reduce the speed of cars by 79 percent. Also, automatic braking systems that are intended to lessen the impact of accidents only slow cars by 40 percent.

John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, said the findings show automatic braking systems will not replace the need for drivers to remain aware behind the wheel.

“AAA found that two-thirds of Americans familiar with the technology believe that automatic emergency braking systems are designed to avoid crashes without driver intervention,” Nielsen said. “The reality is that today’s systems vary greatly in performance, and many are not designed to stop a moving car.”

The findings come months after automakers and government agencies made official a pledge to add automatic emergency braking on nearly every new vehicle by 2022. Participating automakers include: Audi, BMW, FCA US LLC, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla Motors Inc., Toyota Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and Volvo Car USA.

The automakers committed to make the automatic braking feature standard on virtually all light-duty cars and trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 8,500 pounds or less no later than Sept. 1, 2022; and on virtually all trucks with a gross vehicle weight between 8,501 pounds and 10,000 pounds, it’s no later than Sept. 1, 2025.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has estimated that the commitment to make the automatic braking system standard on U.S. cars will prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries between 2022 and 2025. The group has also said the adoption of the emergency braking technology will reduce rear-end crashes by 40 percent.

AAA said Wednesday that 60 percent of the vehicles it tested that had automatic braking systems that were designed to prevent crashes were able to avoid collisions at speeds that were lower than 30 mph. By comparison, the group said only 33 percent of cars in its test that had self-braking systems that were designed to lessen the impact of accidents were able to prevent collisions at such speeds.

At speeds greater than 45 mph, AAA found cars with automatic braking systems that were designed to prevent crashes reduced speeds by 74 percent and were able to avoid collisions in 40 percent of the test cases, while systems that were designed to less the impact of accidents only reduced speeds by nine percent.

Any speed reduction can help to reduce the likelihood of injury in a crash, however, said Megan McKernan, the manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center.

“Automatic emergency braking systems have the potential to drastically reduce the risk of injury from a crash,” McKernan said in a statement. “When traveling at 30 mph, a speed reduction of just 10 mph can reduce the energy of crash impact by more than 50 percent.”

Nielsen, the AAA official, said the auto club still is recommending the purchase of vehicles that have automatic braking systems. But he said the group is warning drivers that they will still have to be responsible for maintaining control of their vehicles in many cases.

“When shopping for a new vehicle, AAA recommends considering one equipped with an automatic emergency braking system,” he said. “However, with the proliferation of vehicle technology, it’s more important than ever for drivers to fully understand their vehicle’s capabilities and limitations before driving off the dealer lot.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing