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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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AAA Sheds Light On Automatic Emergency Braking

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A tragic car crash on the 405 freeway in southern California resulted in the death of a 7-year-old girl. Her 13-year-old sister sustained life threatening injuries. The two girls were passengers in a Tesla when it was rear-ended by a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. The force of the collision pushed the Tesla forward into the back of a Honda Civic. Police suspect alcohol may have been a factor in the accident. Witnesses said the driver of the Tahoe was “swerving in and out of lanes” before crossing double yellow lines into the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane just prior to ramming into the back of the Tesla.

This is not just a story about the dangers of driving under the influence or speeding. It also sheds light on the importance of autonomous driving systems. In 1986, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that all new passenger vehicles be equipped with Centre High Mount Stop Lamp (CHMSL). The purpose was to significantly reduce the number of rear-end collisions, injuries and deaths by improving the braking signal recognition of following drivers. It was extended to light trucks and vans for the 1994 model year. Yet, rear-end collisions remain one of the most common types of car crashes, accounting for more than 40 percent of all incidents on U.S. roads.

In March, twenty automakers agreed to make automatic braking a standard feature on cars and trucks by 2022. Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is a system that enables a car to slow and/or stop without its driver’s input. The systems use a combination of radar, cameras and lasers to determine distance and relative velocity of vehicles in front. Most systems provide a warning first—audible and/or visual. If the driver doesn’t react quickly enough, the system will engage to apply the brakes — either preventing the accident or vastly decreasing the force of the impact. The feature is currently in some models today, usually as an option.

While automatic braking is one stepping stone to true self driving cars, can we trust it to keep us out of an accident or are motorists being lulled into a false sense of security?

The American Auto Association (AAA) and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center tested five 2016 model-year vehicles equipped with automatic emergency brakes including a Volvo XC 90, Subaru Legacy, Lincoln MKX, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Passat. What they found is that not all automatic braking systems are alike, nor are they necessarily designed to stop a moving car and prevent a crash. Some systems will stop the vehicle by itself even if the driver does nothing. Others are only designed to warn drivers when something is encroaching on the vehicle’s space and slows the vehicle when there is a possible obstacle in its path. These systems can lessen crash severity, but won’t necessarily avoid a collision. For example, if a vehicle is traveling at 30 mph and it can be slowed to 20 mph before impact, it can eliminate nearly 50% of the energy from the crash.

Survey results also revealed that two-thirds of drivers familiar with the technology believe that automatic emergency braking systems are designed to avoid crashes without driver intervention,” according to John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. This lack of understanding could lead to consumers placing too much confidence in automated technology, and as a result, take greater risks while behind the wheel.

As AEB systems become increasingly common, the best takeaway for consumers is to make sure you fully understand the features in your vehicle (or before buying a new vehicle). Lawsuit Financial also agrees with AAA that these systems should never be a substitute for an engaged driver. It is important that motorists give their full attention to the task at hand – driving. Even with the most advanced crash prevention system, if and when the features fail, the driver remains the responsible party for any accidents. Be informed and stay alert!

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.