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With no response to its January 13, 2016 petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require cars to use Automatic Braking System (AEB), Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen filed suit on November 23, 2016.

The lawsuit claims the defendants violated federal law by failing to respond within 120 days to the petition, which requested the NHTSA to use its statutory authority to mandate Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems be required as standard equipment in all new vehicles. The lawsuit states that the NHTSA must reply to the petition filed by the plaintiffs within 30 days and issue a decision on the promulgating of a new proposed rule-making.

Two Years of Grim US Highway Statistics

The NHTSA reported in October 2016 that 2015 was the deadliest year on American roads since 2008, and in the first half of 2016, deaths increased another 10.4% to 17,775. Following those sobering statistics, the Obama administration committed to a goal of eliminating traffic deaths within 30 years, a timeline that relies heavily on the auto industry’s development of self-driving cars. Automatic Emergency Braking plays an important part in that development.

Automatic Emergency Braking Intervenes to Prevent Collisions

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is a set of three technologies that use combinations of radar, lidar (reflected laser light) and camera to alert the driver and intervene if a rear-end crash is imminent. Forward Collision Warning alerts a motorist via audio or visual signals of an impending collision. If the driver does not respond to the warning, Crash Imminent Braking intervenes by applying the brakes to prevent collision or reduce the vehicle’s speed at impact. Dynamic Brake Support applies supplemental braking if the braking applied by the driver is insufficient to avoid a collision.

“Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking is the biggest safety advancement since the introduction of stability control over two decades ago,” said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports .

NHTSA Fails to Mandate Automatic Emergency Braking on Cars

NHTSA has already endorsed the AEB system and rates new cars with its 5-star rating system on whether or not they include these safety features. However, it stopped short of mandating implementation of AEB when it announced its voluntary agreement with US 20 automakers in March, 2016, which did not require AEB to become standard equipment on cars. The voluntary agreement is an unenforceable pledge to implement weak versions of the systems. Neither NHTSA nor consumers would be able to challenge the automaker’s violation of the agreement.

Joan Claybrook stated:

“Voluntary standards don’t work. They protect manufacturers, not consumers. AEB is one of the most important lifesaving automotive systems available today. Yet the U.S. Department of Transportation is refusing to use its statutory authority to assure that consumers can rely on a safe AEB system in every car sold in the U.S. and won’t even answer our consumer petition for action.”

NHTSA Finally Acts with New Rule for Automakers

Following the November 23rd lawsuit, after more than a decade of testing and collaboration with the auto industry regarding vehicle to vehicle (V2V) technology, the NHTSA on December 13 proposed new rules requiring automakers adopt crash-avoidance technology that allows all new vehicles to communicate with each other, a move that could accelerate the development of self-driving cars. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new rule could take about a year to take effect, after which it would require automakers to comply on 50% of their new vehicles within two years and 100% within four years. The rule applies only to consumer vehicles, but the agency also believes it could later be applied to medium- and heavy-duty trucks.