Three of the nation’s top consumer advocates today asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to adopt as standard equipment three new advanced safety technologies that could prevent thousands of deaths and injuries, and billions in property damage, from rear-end crashes.
The formal petition by Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator and now President Emeritus of Public Citizen, asks the agency to support Automatic Emergency Breaking, a set of three technologies that use combinations of radar, lidar (reflected laser light) and cameras to prevent collisions.
- Forward Collision Warning alerts a motorist (via audio or visual signals) that a collision with a car in front is imminent.
- Crash Imminent Braking intervenes when the driver does not respond to the Forward Collision Warning; it automatically applies the brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the vehicle’s speed at impact.
- Dynamic Brake Support applies supplemental braking when the braking applied by the driver is insufficient to avoid a collision.
The technologies are proven and have already been deployed by some auto manufacturers in higher-end vehicles, the Petition points out. Moreover, in October NHTSA agreed to consider whether to order manufacturers to install the equipment in heavy vehicles like trucks. And just last month, the agency decided to incorporate these systems into its car rating system, the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), so that consumers are able to determine whether which cars offer AEB as an option.
“There is no reason to distinguish between the dangers posed by heavy vehicles, such as trucks, and those posed by light vehicles, such as cars,” says the Petition, authored by Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and now counsel to the organization. And “as helpful as the rating system is when it comes to comparison shopping, a binding regulation is the only way to ensure the minimum safety of every motorist on the road, not just those who can afford the most expensive luxury vehicles.”
The Petition Urges NHTSA to Mandate Safety Features, Not Defer to Industry “Self-Regulation”
Noting that auto manufacturers were lobbying to “‘voluntarily’ establish safety standards in place of the mandatory safety regulation requested by this Petition,” the Petition urges NHTSA to reject that approach and proceed through the formal process of adopting mandatory installation requirements for all vehicles. As the Petition explains, “voluntary agreements”:
[A]re developed behind closed doors, with no public involvement; are not binding on any company or particular vehicle or model at any given time and can be unilaterally (and secretly) abandoned; cannot be enforced by any members of the public, NHTSA or any other government agency; and often do not reflect objective, scientific or empirical research. Indeed, they are typically the product of industry players seeking to maximize profit and marketing concerns at the expense of robust consumer protection, reflecting the lowest common denominator of industry practice …. As Congress said in 1966, when it created NHTSA: ‘The promotion of motor vehicle safety through voluntary standards has largely failed.’”
The Petition also notes that making the safety technologies standard equipment is the only way to ensure that the technologies are rapidly and uniformly deployed and “that all motorists are protected by available safety technologies, not just those in higher income brackets.”
Finally, the Petition says that the formal rulemaking process is essential to protecting “public confidence in NHTSA,” in what it notes as “a challenging era” for the agency.
Now is not the time to permit the automobile industry to regulate itself. With the record number of vehicle recalls in recent years; the Volkswagen and Hyundai fuel economy scandals; and the extraordinarily rapid introduction of new vehicle automation technologies, some of which pose independent and unprecedented social and safety concerns, it is more important than ever that NHTSA proceed through the legal rulemaking process, with its guarantees of science-based decision-making, due process and disclosure. This is the only way to assure public confidence in the agency’s actions.