New NHTSA Automatic Braking Rule Could Save 360 Lives a Year

The agency predicts that nighttime pedestrian detection requirements could prevent 24,000 injuries every year.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

May 2, 2024

3 Min Read
The IIHS performs a pedestrian automatic emergency braking test.
The IIHS performs a pedestrian automatic emergency braking test.Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

At a Glance

  • Mandatory on all light vehicles by Sept. 2029
  • Must prevent impacts with vehicles at speeds up to 62 mph
  • Must prevent impacts with pedestrians at speeds up to 45 mph, in the dark

Nearly a year after issuing a proposal to require automatic emergency braking (AEB) on new cars, the Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard rule, which will require the feature on all new light vehicles (below 10,000 lbs.) by September, 2029.

“This rule will set a vital baseline for every new car on the road,” applauded William Wallace, associate director of safety policy for Consumer Reports. “People should be able to trust that the lifesaving technology on their car is going to be there for them when they need it, and that’s what this rule will accomplish.”

This rule not only calls for vehicles to avoid hitting other vehicles, but also requires them to reliably detect and stop short of pedestrians, and do so in the dark. Tests will be done at speeds as high as 62 mph for collisions with vehicles and 45 mph for harder-to-detect pedestrians. The system is required to brake automatically at speeds as high as 90 mph, but it is not required to avoid a collision at that speed.

Testing by AAA found that AEB systems fail tests done at highway speeds, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that they do a poor job of detecting pedestrians at night. So, even though Consumer Reports has found that 20 automakers already equip at least 95 percent of their passenger vehicles with AEB, those existing systems may not pass the higher-speed and nighttime tests of the new NHTSA rule.

Related:IIHS Flunks Half the Class in Nighttime Collision Avoidance

“These requirements are strong, but they’re also clearly feasible for automakers to meet, so we urge automakers to step up and meet this rule’s minimum standards without delay,” said Wallace. “To the extent a company provides an even greater level of protection – such as by reliably detecting bicyclists and motorcyclists – we stand ready to make sure consumers know about it.”

Improved detection of pedestrians at night may require the use of different technologies, considering that cameras see poorly in the dark. Thermal manufacturer Teledyne FLIR, sees the opportunity for its thermal sensors to provide that improved detection capability.

“Existing AEB hardware on light vehicles primarily consists of radar or a combination of radar and visible cameras,” said Paul Clayton, vice president and general manager, Teledyne FLIR.

“To achieve enhanced safety at the new PAEB required speeds, lighting conditions, and false-positive requirements, automakers should adopt sensing technologies that are more effective at night and in low-visibility conditions,” he continued. “Teledyne FLIR has demonstrated that thermal imaging technology integrated into existing AEB systems can help automotive manufacturers meet the new requirements and save lives.”  

Related:AAA Finds that Automatic Braking Fails in Highway Situations

NHTSA projects that this new standard, FMVSS No. 127, will save at least 360 lives a year and prevent at least 24,000 injuries annually.

“Automatic emergency braking is proven to save lives and reduce serious injuries from frontal crashes, and this technology is now mature enough to require it in all new cars and light trucks,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman. “In fact, this technology is now so advanced that we’re requiring these systems to be even more effective at higher speeds and to detect pedestrians.”

“Most new vehicles already come with AEB, and we expect that many cars and light trucks will be able to meet this standard ahead of the deadline, meaning even more lives will be saved thanks to this technology,” she added. 

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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