NHTSA Will Add Automatic Braking to Consumer Star Rating System

U.S. regulators will add automatic braking to a list of technologies considered as beneficial to safety in its influential star-rating consumer advisory system.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the change Thursday at a meeting in Washington with automotive engineers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently rates cars based on the results of frontal and side crash tests as well as rollover propensity on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the highest score.

The auto safety regulator has been conducting research on systems that dynamically engage brakes without driver input to avoid impending crashes for the last several years.

In 2012, the agency asked for public comments on the technology and sought input on ways to test their effectiveness.

“This isn’t stuff we’re dreaming up,” Foxx said. “Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen how technology can make a difference.”

NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program, which publishes results of crash tests, will now also list cars on the agency website that have the recommended safety technologies. That includes those that automatically apply brakes if sensors indicate a crash is imminent or that apply extra force to brakes if the driver isn’t braking hard enough. The agency also maintains a list of recommended auto safety technologies, such as back-up cameras and warning systems that alerts a driver when their vehicle has moved out of its lane.

613,501 Lives

Since 1960, safety technologies developed by the auto industry or required by U.S. regulators have saved an estimated 613,501 lives, according to research the Transportation Department released.

One-third of all police-reported crashes in 2013 involved a rear-end collision, according to NHTSA data. A large number of drivers in those crashes didn’t apply the brakes or didn’t fully brake, the agency said.

Regulators are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with driver errors as they try to reduce the fatality rate, Foxx said in an interview with reporters. Technology that can supplement or supplant a driver’s judgment gives the agency another tool, Foxx said.

‘Enormous Leap’

“Today marks an enormous leap in the evolution of auto safety by encouraging adoption of new technologies to keep drivers and their passengers safe on our roads,” Foxx said in a statement. “I want this department, the entire automotive industry, and other innovators to keep raising the bar on safety like we are doing now.”

NHTSA’s new administrator, Mark Rosekind, has said he’ll seek to foster innovation in highway safety in the years he’ll be leading the agency. In his first few weeks on the job, Rosekind focused on the need for automakers to be proactive about identifying and reporting potential safety defects.

Separately, the U.S. Energy Department said it will hand out $55 million in grants to support the Obama administration’s efforts to improve fuel economy and make plug-in electric vehicles more affordable.

The grants will go to companies working on advanced battery technologies, including those that improve efficiency and reduce cost, lightweight materials and improved combustion engines, the department said in a statement.