Slow progress on automatic braking
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 is not already required in cars.
Such systems should be standard in all new cars, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA). 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 US$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, the NHTSA has estimated.
?Consumers are going to come up the losers in this process,? said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Centre for Auto Safety.
Minutes of four meetings that NHTSA has held with automakers since October show the government is considering significant concessions.
"This is what happens when you start negotiating with the auto industry," said Joan Claybrook, a safety advocate and NHTSA's administrator during the Carter administration.
"They want to negotiate this out and they want to negotiate that out and establish a deadline driven by their production schedules rather than safety considerations."
Besides NHTSA, meeting participants included 16 automakers, two auto industry trade groups and the insurance institute, the insurance industry's safety research arm.
Representatives from Transport Canada, the Canadian government?s auto safety regulator, also attended.
Mark Rosekind, NHTSA's administrator, has said the federal rule-making process is so cumbersome and time-consuming that a voluntary agreement is likely to get the technology into all cars faster.
He said regulations remain an option. Automatic braking is already available in dozens of car models, but typically as a pricey option on higher-end vehicles. Subaru offers it on the Impreza sedan, for example, as part of a US$2,895 safety package.