Three well-respected consumer and safety advocacy groups have accused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of not doing enough to make automatic emergency braking standard in all light vehicles. A recent “backroom deal” between the agency and a number of automakers allows them to skirt safety standards, according to the groups. NHTSA announced in March that 20 automakers representing nearly the entire U.S. auto market, including Ford, GM Subaru and many others, had made an “unprecedented commitment” to making automatic emergency braking a standard feature on all new cars no later than 2022. NHTSA estimated the agreement would get the technology to the public three years faster than would be possible through a “formal” rulemaking process.
Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen said in a letter, dated May 23, 2016, to NHTSA that the agreement is “unlawful” as it’s merely a memorandum of understanding that purportedly allows the automakers to avoid federal safety rules already in place. The letter says further that NHTSA won’t have to explain the terms of the agreement. Moreover, the advocacy groups are taking issue with NHTSA’s claim that “substantially all” light cars and trucks will have AEB systems standard by 2022, which they say means only 95 percent of vehicles will need to have AEB by the deadline, leaving one out of every 20 vehicles without the technology.
The consumer groups also said the memorandum allows light duty vehicles with a manual transmission two additional years for standardizing AEB and lets those vehicles that are phased out within one year of the 2022 deadline to leave out AEB altogether. The consumer groups said:
Nowhere has NHTSA said how many vehicles these waivers and extensions cover, and perhaps the agency does not even know. If the MOU were a rulemaking, as the law requires, NHTSA would have to provide such information to the public.
As the name implies, AEB systems are intended to prevent crashes or reduce their severity by applying the brakes for the driver. The technology generally works through on-vehicle sensors like radar, cameras or lasers to detect an imminent crash, warn the driver and apply the brakes if the driver does not respond quickly enough, according to NHTSA.
But the consumer groups said the memorandum agreement with the auto companies has “inexplicably” weakened brake tests like NHTSA’s standard minimum 25 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour safety test. The manufacturers in the memorandum now only need to show the AEB can slow a car to 2 mph from 12 mph.
The groups pointed out that if the AEB deal was going through a traditional rulemaking process, NHTSA “would have to explain how and why the AEB voluntary measures became so weak in the face of higher ratings everywhere else.” Beyond that, the compliant manufacturers also allegedly have “unfettered discretion” to implement an AEB system that can bring a car driving 40 mph to a full stop, something that is a standard measure in NHTSA’s current 5-Star Safety Rating Program. The consumer groups said:
It speaks volumes that neither the MOU nor NHTSA requires a window sticker detailing the speed at which the AEB system will stop the car from before hitting a parked vehicle.
In November NHTSA announced plans to include AEB capabilities in its safety rating system beginning with 2018 vehicle models. A month before that announcement, NHTSA said it would also begin considering new federal standards for crash avoidance technology in heavy trucks, or those over 10,000 pounds, including early crash warnings and auto braking.
Source: Public Citizen
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