Valerie Vinyard

New test results from AAA show that automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems – technology which soon will be standard in 99 percent of vehicles – vary widely in design and performance. 

“AAA found that two-thirds of Americans familiar with the technology believe that automatic emergency braking systems are designed to avoid crashes without driver intervention,” said John Walter, director of automotive repair and fleet operations for AAA Arizona. “The reality is that today’s systems vary greatly in performance, and many are not designed to stop a moving car.”

AAA evaluated five 2016 model-year vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking systems, which  are designed to apply the brakes when a driver fails to engage. Systems were tested based on two categories – those designed to slow or stop the vehicle enough to prevent crashes and those designed to slow the vehicle to lessen crash severity. After more than 70 trials, AAA tests revealed:

Systems designed to prevent crashes reduced vehicle speeds by twice that of systems designed to lessen crash severity (79 percent speed reduction vs. 40 percent speed reduction). In other words, not all AEB systems are designed to stop, but the ones that are do a better job.

With speed differentials under 30 mph, systems designed to prevent crashes successfully avoided collisions in 60 percent of test scenarios. Surprisingly, the system designed to only lessen crash severity were able to completely avoid crashes in nearly one-third (33 percent) of test scenarios.

When pushed beyond stated system limitations and proposed federal requirements, the variation among systems became more pronounced. When traveling at 45 mph and approaching a static vehicle, the systems designed to prevent crashes reduced speeds by 74 percent overall and avoided crashes in 40 percent of scenarios. In contrast, systems designed to lessen crash severity only were able to reduce vehicle speed by 9 percent.

In addition to the independent testing, AAA surveyed drivers to understand consumer purchase habits and trust of automatic emergency braking systems. Results reveal:

Nine percent of U.S. drivers currently have automatic emergency braking on their vehicle.

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. drivers want automatic emergency braking on their next vehicle. 

Only 2 out of 5 U.S. drivers trust automatic emergency braking to work. Drivers who currently own a vehicle equipped with automatic emergency braking system are more likely to trust it to work (71 percent) compared to drivers that have not experienced the technology (41 percent).

“When shopping for a new vehicle, AAA recommends considering one equipped with an automatic emergency braking system,” Walter said. “However, with the proliferation of vehicle technology, it’s more important than ever for drivers to fully understand their vehicle’s capabilities and limitations before driving off the dealer lot.”

For its potential to reduce crash severity, 22 automakers representing 99 percent of vehicle sales have committed to making automatic emergency braking systems standard on all new vehicles by 2022. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rear-end collisions, which automatic emergency braking systems are designed to mitigate, result in nearly 2,000 fatalities and more than 500,000 injuries annually. Currently, 10 percent of new vehicles have automatic emergency braking as standard equipment, and more than half of new vehicles offer the feature as an option.

AAA’s testing of automatic emergency braking systems was conducted on a closed course at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Using instrumented vehicles and a state-of the-art robotic “soft car” that allowed for collisions without vehicle damage, AAA collected vehicle separation, speed and deceleration data in a variety of crash scenarios designed to mirror real-world driving conditions. The testing was designed to build on previous testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 

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