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This new rule for cars is way overdue.

A slew of automatic driver assistance systems (ADAS) have arrived since I began reviewing cars in 2004, but the one you want to make sure is on any new car you buy is automatic emergency braking (AEB). Finally, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administation has proposed that the technology be required on new cars, trucks and utlities and I couldn't agree more.

Automatic Emergency Braking leverages cameras and sensors that are installed on most new cars for a variety of other reasons, making it a very beneficial parasite. (Nissan)

AEB is a big deal because cars mostly go forward and their #1 safety mission is to not hit things. AEB addresses this equation more directly and in a more preventive way than forward collision warning, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, antilock brakes and airbags. Its no wonder that AEB emerged as an insurance industry darling years ago.


Still, AEB isn't going to be a huge life saver, reducing our 43,000 annual highway deaths fatalites by less than 1 percent. But add the 24,000 annual injuries AEB should prevent along with a vast number of costly non-injury collisons and it rolls up into a smart piece of standard equipment.


AEB isn't perfect, with headroom for improvement on its performance at night (when more drivers probably need it), its backing up applications and the top speed at which it can function. And it can be inconsistent, as I learned testing hundreds cars with AEB in my CNET review videos and coming away amazed that they could implement the tech so differently. Such is the landscape of non-regulated car tech, but the new NHTSA proposal would include performance criteria to get sysytems into similarity and require pedestrian detection with AEB.


We long ago added distraction to drunkeness and disinterest behind the wheel so AEB's estimated $82 factory cost should not be an impediment: That pencils out to roughly the same retail cost as a set of floor mats. And over a dozen carmakers already put AEB onto 95 percent of more of their new cars with sticker prices that are so inflated that the cost of AEB is a rounding error anyway.


The history of important auto safety tech is one of a few automakers adopting it as a cutting edge advantage, then most new cars featuring it due to consumer awareness, and finally regulators requiring it once most new cars already have it. Antilock braking systems (ABS) did not become required equipment on new US cars until 2012, long after it became hard to find a new car without the tech. A similarly long regulatory gap existed between the introduction of rear view cameras and their requirement in 2018. Front airbags are perhaps the exception to the rule when they became mandatory on new cars starting in 1999 when the tech was they were still rather exotic.


The NHTSA should prevail in its plan to require AEB and in the three or so years that will take, do not buy a car without it.

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