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Would automatic braking keep us safer?

Vehicle safety advocates seem to think so. The Associated Press reports that over the past few months, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been negotiating with automakers and insurance groups about including automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems within most vehicles. This developing technology has the ability to apply the brakes without the driver's involvement if the vehicle senses it will collide with something.

However, negotiations between the NHTSA and automobile industry leaders have centered on a voluntary agreement to include such systems. Traffic safety advocates like the Center for Auto Safety feel such an agreement does not go far enough. A voluntary agreement, they assert, leads to cut corners and less safety for the consumer. Safety groups have petitioned the NHTSA to mandate the use of automatic braking systems instead, much like they do for seat belts.

The question remains: would automatic braking systems actually keep us safer?

How auto-braking systems work

The technology for automatic braking has been around for several years now. However, it's typically an expensive add-on and not a required feature on base models of consumer vehicles. Each automaker has its own proprietary AEB system, but in general the system uses a network of cameras or lasers to monitor the road around the vehicle. If these sensors pick up on an approaching obstacle - like a braking car, a pedestrian or a telephone pole, for example - the car will alert you to the danger of imminent collision, and apply the brakes lightly if it senses that you are not taking action quickly enough.

The pros and cons of AEB

AEB technology can prevent common minor collisions like rear-end or side-swipe accidents. Consumer Reports found that cars equipped with AEB and forward-collision warning (FCW) technology reduce insurance claims involving bodily injury by 30 percent.

However, many AEB systems only work at slower speeds, between 20 and 30 mph. So, highway driving and high-speed crashes are still a concern. Furthermore, automakers are quick to point out that AEB systems are not designed to take the place of the driver. If the driver chooses to take an alternative action, he or she will not have to "fight the car" for control. For this reason, AEB cannot save drivers from their own poor driving habits, such as speeding or recklessly weaving in and out of traffic.

What do you think?

It cannot be disputed that AEB systems and similar technologies have helped prevent many serious accidents. However, as technological advances propel us closer to the day when self-driving cars are consumer-friendly purchases, the law will need to adapt to take questions about their safety into account. For example, are drivers still at fault if their AEB systems failed or were hijacked? What if the car took all the appropriate measures and an accident still occurred? Let us know your predictions in the comments section below.

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