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How the US is driving crash prevention technology development

How the US is driving crash prevention technology development
Tristan Honeywill

Crash prevention technology, particularly autonomous emergency braking (AEB), has the potential to reduce the number of crashes, deaths and injuries by around 27%. The logic is simple: prevent more crashes, save more lives. But for it to deliver on its promise it really needs to become standard fit on all new cars. How long before that happens?

It’s a long process, but it’s already underway in the US. Less than a year into a new ratings programme in the US by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for technologies that prevent frontal crashes, manufacturers are responding in the right way. Most are adopting systems that can intervene in an emergency, braking automatically, instead of just trying to alert the distracted driver to the danger.

In the latest round of results, 21 of 24 cars and SUVs, earned an advanced or higher rating, which means the cars should be able to prevent some of the most common nose-to-tail crashes that occur. Manufacturers such as BMW and Lexus are among the brands who have upgraded their systems in order to do better in the assessments – and to improve the protection for their customers.


IIHS president Adrian Lund: “We want crash prevention to be more widely available”

Car Safety Rules asked Adrian Lund, president of the IIHS, to explain how he sees the penetration of crash prevention technology developing. Has the initial response from industry been swifter than expected? 

“It’s been consistent with the response to changes in the way we evaluate crashworthiness,” says Lund. “The automakers are on board because we’re rating proven safety measures.”

How does the response compare to previous technologies like the breakthrough safety technologies of the past, like electronic stability control (ESC?

“This is a different situation than with ESC. We’re at a different stage in the automakers’ development of the technology. When IIHS and NHTSA [The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) came out with research showing that ESC was effective, it was already a mature technology and optional on many vehicles. The automakers then just accelerated the pace, getting ESC on more vehicles. With front crash prevention technology, we’re at a very early stage so it’s going to be a little slower.”


Will you take a different, perhaps more bullish, approach to raising performance requirements for you TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards, to help accelerate the uptake and development of this technology?

“What we’re doing is typical of how we’ve handled changes in the past. We want to encourage the manufacturers to make front crash prevention systems more widely available, but we also have to take into account where the market is.

“To give consumers meaningful guidance, we have to strike a good balance. We don’t want to ratchet up the requirements so quickly that the ratings are meaningless to most car buyers because we only have expensive luxury vehicles to recommend.

“For 2014, for example, vehicles can earn the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award with a ‘basic’ rating for front crash prevention. That gives the manufacturers another year to make effective AEB systems available on more mainstream models. After that we will require advanced or superior ratings for the ‘plus’ designation.

“It’s similar to how we handled the first TOP SAFETY PICK awards for the 2006 model year. We had two tiers, gold and silver, recognizing that we didn’t have many vehicles yet that earned good ratings for whiplash prevention in rear crashes. The silver award went to vehicles with acceptable rear crash ratings. It gave automakers time to adjust and improve their seat/head restraint designs. “

It sounds like it could be some time still before AEB is standard on all new cars. How long do you think it will be?

“It will happen but the timing depends in part on what NHTSA does. NHTSA is trying to determine if they’re going to regulate or modify their US NCAP ratings to recognize AEB [NHTSA’s term is collision mitigation braking]. US NCAP already recognizes Forward Collision Warning systems. NHTSA wants to be confident that the technologies aren’t generating false positives, such as being activated by objects like metal trench plates used in construction zones.”




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