Saving Lives: Automatic Emergency Braking Systems for New Cars
Since the invention of the automobile, traffic accidents have been a sad fact of life for Americans and others around the world. As the number of cars and trucks in the United States exploded in the Twentieth Century, so too did the number of accidents – and with them, the number of injuries and deaths. The quest for new safety technologies has been underway for decades now, and progress has been made in many areas. Even so, far too many lives are lost each year to what can only be referred to as an epidemic of traffic crashes on the nation’s roads and highways. Automatic emergency braking systems for new cars could be a step toward even greater reductions in those accident statistics.
To understand why technology could be so important in the fight against injury and fatality on US roadways, it is helpful to examine the nature of the challenge that we face. In one study of just a subset of vehicle crashes in the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that approximately 1.7 million rear-end crashes take place on an annual basis. In just those crashes alone, roughly 400,000 injuries occur and more than 200 lives are lost each year. Altogether, the financial cost of those collisions amounts to nearly $50 billion.
The fact is that the NHTSA estimates that one person is killed in a fatal car accident every sixteen minutes. Moreover, that death toll is striking down the nation’s younger generations at an alarming rate. In fact, the US government now estimates that automobile crashes are now the “leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 11 and 27“.
What is Automatic Braking?
Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is a form of technology that the NHTSA includes under the group of safety devices that it has dubbed Forward Crash Avoidance and Mitigation (FCAM) systems. The technology is considered among the more revolutionary safety devices in use today, and combines the best features of electronic stability control with the most advanced driver assist systems commercially available.
These systems work together either with or without the driver and can help to slow a vehicle down and diminish the impact of crashes that are otherwise unavoidable. These benefits are accomplished by making use of state of the art data collection gathered via video systems and radar. This data is used to recreate a real-time road image that provides an accurate view and assessment of the conditions prevalent at any given moment.
When dangerous conditions are detected, the computer can begin to apply the brake pressure needed to begin deceleration. Once the driver engages the brakes, the system provides even more pressure to slow the car. In the best case scenarios, this will buy the driver the time he needs to gain control of the situation – either slowing the vehicle down enough to avoid or minimize the impact of a crash, or steering the automobile out of danger.
In situations where the driver fails to accomplish either of those feats, however, there is an autonomous system that springs into action to engage the maximum amount of braking available at the time. That emergency action helps the vehicle to achieve its maximum potential deceleration and is known as full ABS braking.
Technology Saves Lives
Of course, that all sounds promising but the real test is in whether lives can actually be saved via technology. On that front, the outlook appears to be good. If past is indeed prologue, the technological benefits should be extremely positive. In the half-century, the NHTSA estimates that hundreds of thousands of traffic deaths have been prevented thanks to the installation of various automobile safety devices. Airbags, seat belts, electronic stability control, and other technological advances are credited with having saved some 600,000 lives between 1960 and 2012 – with almost half of those lives having been saved in the last ten years of that period.
That last note is important because it reveals that technology’s ability to prevent serious death and injury is improving as the years go by. In that study, the agency found that your chance of dying as a result of a car crash was reduced by 56 percent over a 52-year period. The newest technologies provide hope that those odds can be reduced even more.
The Push for Universal Autonomous Braking Systems
Of course, none of that matters unless these systems make it into the nation’s cars. For some time now, the thought and expectation were that this would have to be accomplished through regulation, just as so many other safety features often gained acceptance in the auto industry in response to government intervention. In this instance, however, the path forward is one that is paved with cooperation from both government and the private sector.
The NHTSA recently announced that 20 automobile manufacturers have made a commitment to standardize this aspect of vehicle safety. That commitment will help to ensure that more than 99% of the American automobile marketplaces these automatic emergency braking features into almost every new car in the United States.
The goal is to have this technology integrated into the auto production cycle by the year 2022. NHTSA officials have noted that their estimated time for accomplishing the same feat through regulation would have required an additional three years for completion, with the requisite loss of lives that this agreement will now save. Yes, that’s right: the very existence of this commitment and its accelerated timeline for implementing AEB technology means that an estimated 28,000 crashes, 12,000 injuries, and hundreds of fatalities will now be prevented.
Six years from now, virtually every new car purchased in the United States will be safer and more secure thanks to the implementation of this latest technological marvel. Lives will be saved, injuries will be prevented, and many crashes will be avoided altogether. The good news is that technology is finally reaching the point where it can help to turn the tide on the scourge of traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.