US government regulators and the auto industry are taking a more lenient approach than safety advocates like when it comes to phasing in automatic braking systems for passenger cars, according to records of their private negotiations.
The technology automatically applies brakes to prevent or mitigate collisions, rather than waiting for the driver to act. It’s the most important safety technology available today that’s not already required in cars.
Such systems should be standard in all new cars, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But instead of mandating it, the government is trying to work out a voluntary agreement with automakers in hopes of getting it in cars more quickly.
But safety advocates say voluntary agreements aren’t enforceable and are likely to contain weaker standards and longer timelines than if the government had issued rules. There are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the US, killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about USD 47 billion annually. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision, NHTSA estimated.
“Consumers are going to come up the losers in this process,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
Meeting minutes obtained by The Associated Press of three of the meetings that NHTSA has held with automakers since October that show the government is considering significant concessions.
Records of the third negotiating session, on Nov. 12, show that automatic braking systems would be allowed that slow vehicles by as little as 5 mph (8 kph) before a collision. Manufacturers would be allowed to exempt 5 percent of their vehicles from the standard. The discussion included an additional exemption for models that manufacturers intend to phase out or redesign.
The minutes don’t specify a model year by which the technology would have to be included in cars. The group did decide that discussion of any deadline would begin with “the latest date submitted by any automaker” for when they would be ready to make the change.