Consumer groups also claim that NHTSA is focusing too much on autonomous vehicle technology, rather than systems that are available today.

The Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety, and Public Citizen are jointly suing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States because the agency is allegedly acting too slowly on mandating automatic emergency braking systems. The groups also assert that a voluntary agreement between NHTSA and 20 automakers doesn’t go far enough to get the potentially life-saving technology on the road.

This trio of consumer advocacy groups submitted a petition to NHTSA in January 2016 that requested that the agency mandate automatic emergency braking. The auto safety regulator was supposed to reply by May 12 but never responded. This lawsuit aims to force NHTSA into ruling on the groups’ demands. The consumer advocates claim that adopting the tech would prevent an estimated 910,000 crashes a year.

If NHTSA mandates the tech, the consumer groups want it to include three provisions. There would be a collision alert through audio or visual signals. If a driver doesn’t respond, then the vehicle would automatically apply the brakes. In addition, the system would apply supplemental braking if the person behind the wheel doesn’t apply enough pressure to stop in time.

Instead of mandating automatic emergency braking, NHTSA announced voluntary adoption of tech by 20 automakers. The companies, including big names like Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Volkswagen Group, promised to make the equipment a standard feature on 99 percent of new vehicles by September 1st, 2022. At the time, NHTSA and the business touted that the agreement made the system standard equipment three years faster than through the normal regulatory process. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also quoted far lower estimates that Automatic Emergency Braking could prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries in three years.

The consumer advocacy groups claim that making the system’s acceptance voluntary for these companies is unenforceable and allows them “roll out weak versions of the technology” by allegedly not needing to adhere federal safety protections.

“NHTSA continues to allow automakers to introduce advanced safety features at their own pace, by issuing ‘voluntary’ guidelines with no force of law,” said Michael Brooks, acting director at the Center for Auto Safety, in the consumer groups’ announcement.

In addition, the advocacy groups claim that NHTSA has put too much effort into regulating autonomous vehicles. They claim that self-driving tech is still in its infancy, while automatic emergency braking is ready right now. In fact, the IIHS already tests the generally optional systems as a criterion for earning the vaunted Top Safety Pick+ honor.

Source: Consumer Watchdog via The Detroit News

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Gallery: 20 automakers to make automatic emergency braking systems standard equipment

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Consumer Advocates Sue NHTSA for Ignoring Automatic Emergency Braking Petition

Agency Response to Request for Rules Requiring New Technologies Is Six Months Overdue
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three of the nation’s leading consumer advocates have sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., for failing to respond to a formal request that the agency require automakers to adopt advanced safety technologies that could prevent or limit the injuries and property damage from an estimated 910,000 automobile crashes every year.

On Jan. 16, Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen, petitioned NHTSA to require cars to use Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) – a set of three technologies that use combinations of radar, lidar (reflected laser light) and cameras to alert the driver and intervene if a rear-end crash is imminent.

Under federal law, NHTSA was supposed to grant or deny the petition within 120 days – by May 12. NHTSA has yet do to so.

In the meantime, on March 17, NHTSA announced that it had reached an agreement negotiated behind closed doors with 20 car companies to allow them to roll out weak versions of the technology on an unenforceable “voluntary” basis over a 10-year period, evading formal federal safety protections. Represented by Public Citizen and Consumer Watchdog, the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on Nov. 23, asking the court to order NHTSA to issue a decision on the petition within 30 days.

As the complaint states: “The danger to public safety caused by defendants’ failure to initiate a rulemaking to require AEB technologies to be installed in light vehicles counsels in favor of expeditious action on plaintiffs’ petition. The pace of defendants’ decisional process is unreasonable in light of the statutory deadline for responding to the petition… and the nature and extent of the public interests at stake.”

“This year, NHTSA has devoted enormous agency resources to ‘driverless vehicles,’ which are years or even decades away, while a safety system that is ready to start saving lives right now has been relegated to the whims of the auto companies,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and one of the lawyers in the case.

“NHTSA continues to allow automakers to introduce advanced safety features at their own pace, by issuing ‘voluntary’ guidelines with no force of law,” said Michael Brooks, acting director at the Center for Auto Safety. “For too long, the agency has postponed requiring the proven lifesaving technology of Automatic Emergency Braking. NHTSA should immediately issue a rulemaking that defines performance requirements for these systems and mandates their installation in all vehicles without delay.”

“Voluntary standards don’t work,” said Claybrook, the former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen. “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.”

“The agency’s time to respond to the petition has long since passed,” said Adina Rosenbaum, the attorney at Public Citizen representing the plaintiffs. “The agency should end its delay at once and comply with its statutory obligation to respond.”

About the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) Petition

AEB consists of a suite of three technologies:

• 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 by automatically applying the brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the vehicle’s speed at impact; and
• Dynamic Brake Support applies supplemental braking when the braking applied by the driver is insufficient to avoid a collision.

NHTSA has already endorsed the AEB system and already rates new cars on whether they include these safety features. The agency is considering whether to require installation of the equipment in heavy vehicles such as trucks. But the voluntary agreement announced in March does not require that AEB become standard equipment in cars. Instead, it represents an unenforceable pledge to implement weak versions of the systems. Neither NHTSA nor consumers may challenge the automakers’ violation of the agreement.

A copy of the lawsuit is available for download here:

A copy of the Jan. 16 petition is available here:

And a May 23 letter from the consumer advocates urging NHTSA to act on the petition is available here:

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