Auto-braking to be a legal requirement in the US very soon

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has used a proposed rulemaking notice to make automatic braking a mandatory feature on new light vehicles.
Christopher McFadden
Automatic braking could become mandatory in the US very soon.


The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make automatic braking mandatory for new light cars. The announcement was made on Wednesday, 31st May 2023, that will, once enforced, require the feature to be standard on all new light passenger vehicles. This pronouncement is supported by the prediction that such features should help save around 360 lives yearly while preventing about 24,000 accidents annually.

Light vehicles, in this regard, are defined as "a mobile machine that is primarily used to transport passengers and cargo (e.g., cars, vans, SUVs, pickup trucks), with a GVWR less than or equal to 10,000 pounds, (i.e., Class 1 through Class 2 Vehicles, as designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation)," according to Law Insider.

"This NPRM proposes to adopt a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to require automatic emergency braking (AEB), including pedestrian AEB (PAEB), systems on light vehicles," the notice says. In most cases, the feature will use a forward-looking sensor (like a radar or camera) to monitor for rapidly decelerating objects in front of the vehicle that would initially alert the driver and, if no action is taken, automatically apply the vehicle's brakes.

"Today, we take an important step forward to save lives and make our roadways safer for all Americans," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Just as lifesaving innovations from previous generations like seat belts and airbags have helped improve safety, requiring automatic emergency braking on cars and trucks would keep us safer on our roads," he added.

While the NHTSA added automatic emergency braking systems to a list of recommended features for new cars in 2015, the administration is now moving to strengthen the requirement. When the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) was introduced to provide consumers with safety information about new vehicles, it began to consider the existence or non-existence of advanced driver assistance systems as a factor in determining a car's rating.

Partly owing to this, car manufacturers voluntarily began to include the standard feature. To this end, around ten car manufacturers informed the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of their intention to incorporate the feature in all their new vehicles. The following year, another ten joined the initiative to make this function standard by 2022, effectively bringing most of the automotive industry on board with the agreement.

But this was not all just for show. Several years' worth of data shows that introducing this feature has had a noticeable impact on road safety. According to a 2015 meta-analysis, ARS Technica reports, there was a 38 percent reduction in collisions for vehicles that utilized such a system. However, as Tesla and Honda have discovered, overactive or too-sensitive automatic braking is not foolproof. Tesla and Honda have faced "phantom braking" complaints due to oversensitive or poorly designed systems, which can result in false alarms and even accidents if the car brakes unnecessarily.

One of the main requirements from the new NHTSA requirement will be the addition of pedestrian detection. However, a 2019 Automobile Association of America (AAA) study discovered that these systems often throw errors ("false positives") at high speeds or low light levels.

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