May 31, 2023 - Technology

U.S. to require high-speed crash-avoidance tech on new cars

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Cars must be able to stop themselves when they detect an imminent crash, even at high speeds and at night, per a newly proposed rule from U.S. safety regulators.

Why it matters: The proposed standard, which goes far beyond today's crash-avoidance technology, aims to reduce the carnage on U.S. roadways.

  • An estimated 42,795 people died in traffic accidents in 2022, while 4.5 million are injured annually.
  • If enacted, the rule could save at least 360 lives and reduce injuries by at least 24,000 annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Driving the news: Acting NHTSA chief Ann Carlson outlined the proposal at a Wednesday press conference, one day after President Biden withdrew her controversial nomination to permanently lead the safety agency.

  • If enacted, the new rule would set higher performance standards for automatic emergency braking and pedestrian-detection technology.

Where it stands: Approximately 90% of new vehicles are equipped with some type of automatic emergency braking system, Carlson said.

  • Sixty-five percent of new vehicles satisfy the test procedures for such technologies under the government's Five-Star Safety Ratings program.
  • "The technology is mature enough now for us to propose mandating its inclusion in all new vehicles — and requiring these systems to be much more effective at much higher speeds," she said.

What's new: Under the proposal, U.S. safety standards would require what Carlson called "full collision avoidance."

  • That means a vehicle must be able to stop without touching the car in front of it at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
  • If a driver brakes, but not hard enough, the system must be able to avoid a crash at speeds up to 62 miles per hour.
  • "This could change a high-speed crash from a deadly one to a lower-speed crash with minor injuries or just property damage," Carlson said.
  • Cars would also be required to stop and avoid pedestrians at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour — including at night, when 70% of pedestrian fatalities occur.

What's next: The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal.

Flashback: Twenty auto manufacturers volunteered in 2016 to equip their vehicles with an emergency braking system by Sept. 1, 2022, arguing that doing so was faster than waiting for a federal law.

  • But some automakers have been slower to act than others.
  • Plus, studies have shown the technology is not effective at high speeds or at night.
  • Congress instructed regulators to enact tougher vehicle safety standards when it passed the infrastructure law in November 2021.

The bottom line: Like seat belts, air bags and antilock brakes, an emergency braking technology mandate could save lives.

Go deeper