Although an agreement among federal safety regulators, the insurance industry and automakers will put lifesaving automatic braking systems on most light vehicles by 2022, it will be many more years before large trucks and commercial vehicles, responsible for 4,000 deaths annually, get the same technology.
These new systems – just starting to appear on passenger vehicles – alert drivers that they are about to rear-end a vehicle and automatically trigger the brakes.
With over 10 million commercial vehicles on U.S. roads, there is broad agreement that this is an important safety issue.
Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that automatic emergency braking, or AEB, reduces rear-end crashes by 39 percent compared with similar cars lacking the option. For rear-end crashes with injuries, the reduction is even greater — 42 percent.
Collision prevention systems like AEB would decrease truck fatalities by roughly 44 percent to 47 percent, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute
That’s why four key industry groups are calling for AEB to become standard in the trucking industry.
Last month, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Center for Auto Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Road Safe America filed a petition asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make AEB mandatory for new trucks.
“(AEB) is clearly effective in reducing crashes for passenger vehicles,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the insurance institute, an industry trade group. “We expect that it will also be effective for crashes involving large trucks.”
While the NHTSA has granted the petition, there’s no defined timeline for when this change would take place.
“It can be a long process,” Rader said.
Developing automated safety systems for trucks and commercial vehicles presents challenges that don’t exist in passenger cars, said Nat Breuse, associate administrator of vehicle safety research at the Department of Transportation.
Because of their heavier weight and larger size, the stability of a big rig is paramount. That means implementation of front-end collision prevention systems has to come with an assurance that the rapid braking won’t cause the vehicle to tip over or otherwise go out of control, Breuse said.
The diverse braking technology in big trucks makes universal implementation harder for vehicles that weigh between 10,000 and 26,000 pounds.
“The market is very challenged right now in developing that technology,” Breuse said.
Nonetheless, it is clear the technology can prevent crashes, and the industry should be able to solve the technical issues, Breuse said.
“They’re not mountains that can’t be overcome,” Breuse said.
Indeed, many of the problems have already been solved. The European Union requires forward-collision warning and automatic braking on most new heavy vehicles, according to the IIHS.
In the U.S., the same automakers pledging to adopt the automatic braking technology for cars by 2022 have also promised to implement it in light-duty trucks by 2025.