NHTSA Wants Mandatory Automatic Emergency Braking

All cars and light trucks will need to have automatic emergency braking according to the NHTSA proposal.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

June 1, 2023

4 Min Read
The 2023 Cadillac XT5 provides a warning on the head-up display when the vehicle's automatic emergency braking system activates.General Motors Co.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) moved to mandate automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems on future new cars in a bid to reduce rear-end crashes. The proposal would apply to all U.S.-market light vehicles, which are defined as those with a gross weight of less than 10,000 lbs.

The upside is a predicted saving of 360 lives per year and the reduction of as many as 24,000 collisions. But such a requirement would also be a windfall for companies making the components of such systems, especially sensors that AEB systems rely on to detect obstacles ahead.

How's It Work?

An AEB system uses various sensor technologies and sub-systems that work together to detect when the vehicle is close to crashing, and then automatically applies the vehicle brakes if the driver has not done so, or applies more braking force to supplement the driver’s braking as necessary to avoid or mitigate the severity of the crash.

A 2023 University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) study of General Motors vehicles indicated Automatic Emergency Braking, together with Forward Collision Alert, reduced rear-end striking crashes by 42 percent, while Front Pedestrian Braking reduced front pedestrian crashes by 23 percent.

Night driving and pedestrian detection are some tougher challenges for AEB to provide protection. “Adasky was actively involved in working with NHTSA and the consumer agencies like (the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and Consumer Reports to identify the shortcomings of the current AEB systems, that were proven to be deficient at night and in poor weather conditions,” noted Bill Grabowski, Head of Adasky, North America. The company supplies thermal camera technology for automotive applications. “We argue that night is not an ‘edge case’ and that ADAS systems need to be functional at all times,” he said. 

“In particular, the current sensors; RGB cameras and radar are not capable of ‘seeing’ at night to correctly identify pedestrians,” Grabowski asserted. “At Adasky, we have developed a very small, powerful thermal camera capable of meeting automotive reliability standards at an attractive price - something lidar has failed to do thus far.” 


The government says that the eventual final rule will save lives. “Today, we take an important step forward to save lives and make our roadways safer for all Americans,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Just as lifesaving innovations from previous generations like seat belts and airbags have helped improve safety, requiring automatic emergency braking on cars and trucks would keep all of us safer on our roads.”   

The DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) was announced in January 2022 to address the confounding increase in traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and the AEB proposal would be a key component of that safety effort. The NRSS applies multiple layers of solutions, with safer roads, safer people, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and better post-crash care. AEB addresses the safer vehicles component as part of DOT’s effort to expand vehicle systems and features that help to prevent crashes.   

“We’ve seen the benefits of the AEB system in some passenger vehicles already even at lower speeds, and we want to expand the use of the technology to save even more lives,” said NHTSA Chief Counsel Ann Carlson. “That’s why our proposed rule would require all cars to be able to stop and avoid contact with a vehicle in front of them up to 62 miles per hour. And the proposal would require pedestrian AEB, including requiring that AEB recognize and avoid pedestrians at night. This proposed rule is a major safety advancement.”

NTSB Is on Board

The National Transportation Safety Board was immediately on board with the proposal, pushing for a more aggressive adoption schedule than the proposal suggests. “We commend NHTSA’s actions today as a major leap forward for road safety,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “However, I do hope NHTSA reconsiders the deadlines, which are much too long and could extend out to 2029 for certain manufacturers, incorporates AEB for bicyclists and motorcyclists, and requires installation of AEB and pedestrian AEB in commercial vehicles.”

False alarms are a challenge for AEB systems, but they can be designed to be sensitive enough to be effective without braking at inappropriate times. “The best AEB systems are the ones you never notice until you need them most,” said Kelly Funkhouser, manager for vehicle technology at Consumer Reports. “They are designed to only activate at the last possible second, so it’s common to have never experienced an AEB event."

General Motors announced that the company is well on its way to installing AEB in all its vehicles, reporting that 98 percent of its 2023 model year vehicles will have AEB as standard equipment, and all the company's EVs have it.

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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