Automatic Braking Systems Reducing Crashes

Automatic braking systems were shown in a new study to reduce rear-end crashes by about 40 percent on average, adding momentum to a push by safety groups, regulators and some automakers to equip all new cars with the technology.

The study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that vehicles with automatic braking and forward collision warning systems had a 39 percent lower incidence of rear-end crashes.

Forward collision warning systems alone reduced rear-end collisions by 23 percent, the study found.

The combination of crash-prevention technologies cut the incidence of rear-end crashes involving injuries by 42 percent, but the study’s authors found that collision warning alone had little effect in reducing injury accidents.

“It’s surprising that forward collision warning didn’t show more of an injury benefit,” wrote Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research, given that insurance data found big reductions in injury claims.

The study further concluded that if all vehicles could warn drivers of an imminent collision and automatically apply the brakes, some 700,000 crashes could have been averted in 2013 — or roughly 13 percent of all police-reported crashes that year.

For the 2015 model year, just 1 percent of vehicles included automatic braking as a standard feature, while 26 percent offered it as an option, according to IIHS.

The technology is quickly gaining traction. Last year, in a pact brokered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and IIHS, a group of 10 automakers agreed to eventually make automatic braking systems a standard feature on all new cars. Other manufacturers have since joined the pact, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said this month.

The new IIHS findings could help accelerate that rollout. The group, whose research is funded by the insurance industry, has been an influential voice on auto safety, with auto industry engineers often citing IIHS studies to justify the costs of equipping new vehicles with advanced safety systems. The availability of automatic braking is already a key criterion in the IIHS’ closely watched vehicle safety ratings.

“As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end crashes,” David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, said in a statement. “The same goes for the whiplash injuries that often result from these crashes.”

In early 2015, NHTSA also began recommending some automatic-braking technology as part of its assessment of a vehicle’s crash ratings. While automatic braking technology does not affect a vehicle’s star rating, the systems are now included in NHTSA’s list of recommended safety technologies, which include backup cameras, lane-departure and impending-collision warning systems.

The pact signed in September among automakers, NHTSA and IIHS is also expected to drive new business to suppliers as adoption rates for the technology increase across the industry.

The IIHS study reviewed police reports of rear-end crashes in 22 states from 2010 through 2014. The group compared the crash rates of Acura, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and Volvo vehicles equipped with automatic braking and front-collision warnings against the same models without the technologies. The study looked at crash and injury rates for the vehicles that struck the other vehicle; the vehicles hit from behind were excluded.

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