Proposed AEB regulation is an important step for safety

May 31, 2023

A regulation proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will help ensure that important improvements in automatic emergency braking (AEB) technology, including systems to protect pedestrians, spread through the vehicle fleet as quickly as possible.

NHTSA unveiled a proposal on May 31 to require that all new passenger vehicles have AEB capable of braking to fully avoid a crash with another vehicle at up to 50 mph. Vehicles must also be able to stop for pedestrians from speeds up to 37 mph, and the pedestrian detection must work in dark conditions.

The proposal, which will have a 60-day comment period and responds to a mandate that Congress included in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, will improve the vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems that are currently standard on most new vehicles. As deaths of pedestrians have risen sharply in recent years, the provision requiring pedestrian detection that works both at night and during the day is especially important.

In March 2022, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) petitioned federal regulators to require manufacturers to equip all new passenger vehicles with AEB systems capable of detecting and avoiding pedestrians in the dark as well as in daylight.

Both a HLDI analysis of insurance claims and an IIHS study of police-reported crashes have found large benefits from pedestrian AEB. However, while the IIHS study found that the systems cut pedestrian crashes in daylight or on well-lit roads, it found virtually no effect at night on unlit roads. More than a third of fatal pedestrian crashes occur under those conditions.

“Pedestrian AEB that works well at night is a game changer for protecting the most vulnerable people on the road,” said IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey. “This proven technology takes action when a driver doesn’t and can reduce the severity of a collision or prevent the collision from happening altogether.”

IIHS and NHTSA worked together to broker a 2016 commitment by 20 manufacturers to equip virtually all their light-duty cars and trucks with AEB that prevents front-into-rear collisions with other vehicles by the production year that began on Sept. 1, 2022. Now, nearly every new vehicle sold includes AEB as standard equipment. While IIHS tests AEB systems at 12 and 25 mph, the NHTSA proposal will ensure that the systems also work at higher speeds.

Since the commitment was forged, the technology has gradually improved from being able to detect other vehicles to recognizing and stopping for pedestrians as well. Many AEB systems also can detect and prevent collisions with cyclists.

IIHS began evaluating vehicle-to-vehicle AEB systems in 2013. A pedestrian AEB test was added in 2019, followed by a nighttime test in 2022. This year, the nighttime pedestrian test was included in the requirements automakers must meet to earn the highest IIHS safety accolade, TOP SAFETY PICK+.

“Automakers worked hard to make AEB standard equipment on virtually all new vehicles in response to the 2016 commitment,” said Harkey. “Now they’re quickly responding to the IIHS pedestrian test requirement as well. A NHTSA regulation would ensure that even more effective AEB systems, including those with pedestrian detection, spread more rapidly to more of the new vehicle fleet.”

“Still, we can’t depend entirely on technology. With people keeping their cars longer, it will be several decades before at least 90 percent of vehicles on the road are equipped with pedestrian AEB. We also need states and local jurisdictions to act quickly to improve pedestrian infrastructure and lower vehicle speeds, which can pay safety dividends much faster.”

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