Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
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IIHS reports the case for automatic emergency braking

Nov. 17, 2022
Although many have some hesitancies about the competencies and effectiveness of automatic emergency braking systems, many safety-related organizations are making the case for their implementation.

The prevalence of increasingly complex systems in commercial vehicles has been steadily increasing, with many manufacturers installing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, or blind-zone detection. But implementation of these systems isn’t always consistent, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) finding in a recent study that while AEBs can significantly reduce the rear-end crash rates for pickup trucks, they’re less likely to be used than in cars or SUVs.

AEB systems use radar and lidar sensors, and cameras to detect when a vehicle is too close to an object in front of it. The system than issues a warning to the driver, pre-charges the brakes, and then may apply the brakes automatically if the driver does not heed the alert.

“Pickups account for 1 out of 5 passenger vehicles on U.S. roads, and their large size can make them dangerous to people in smaller vehicles or on foot,” said study author Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS. “Nevertheless, manufacturers have been slow to equip them with AEB and other crash avoidance systems.”

This reluctance to install ABS has been mirrored in commercial vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found in a 2020 report on the implementation of ABS in commercial vehicles that voluntary ABS technology is in less than 50% of Class 8 truck sales, with medium-duty vehicles lagging even further behind this number.

Oftentimes, the study reported, this hesitancy is due to the cost barrier of installing the feature, performance concerns such as the system braking to hard and causing jackknifing or false alerts, and the overall mistrust of ABS technology.

However, as both the IIHS and the FMCSA found, the benefits of ABS systems often outweigh the concerns.

The IIHS study examined police-reported pickup crashes in 25 states for four years ending in 2020 and found that the rate of pickup trucks rear-ending other vehicles per registered vehicle year was 43% lower with AEB systems, while rear-end injury crash rates were 42% lower.

“These numbers confirm that AEB is reducing crashes for pickups, just as it is for cars, SUVs and large trucks,” said Cicchino. “The faster automakers can make sure that every pickup they sell has this important safety feature, the better.”

Equally, the IIHS study found that AEB systems eliminate 42% of crashes in tractor-trailer collisions.

Meanwhile, the FMCSA found that if AEB systems were regularly implemented with 100% market penetration and effectiveness in commercial vehicles, it could prevent an estimated 11,499 crashes and 12,732 property-damage only crashes. Even if AEBs only reached 28% effectiveness with a $2,500 purchase price, the benefits of utilizing the system would outweigh the costs.

These findings have led to an agreement of voluntary adoption AEBs by some manufacturers, particularly in passenger vehicles. In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that Tesla, Volvo, Audi, and Mercedes have already equipped nearly all their new passenger vehicles with low-speed AEB ahead of schedule.

“The voluntary agreement covers most passenger vehicles, and federal regulations will soon require AEB on tractor-trailers,” said Cicchino. “But there’s a substantial gap in between for Class 3-6 trucks, which include some heavy-duty pickups as well as larger vehicles like some garbage trucks and buses.”

To reap these benefits, pickups manufacturers and commercial vehicle fleets alike should know that despite the barriers for AEB usage, the systems have continued to develop and mature. In a 2013-2016 NHTSA study cited by the FMCSA, more recent AEBs “generally activated when appropriate and there were no front-to-rear collisions in over 2.5 million miles of recorded driving.”

Additionally, many companies including Daimler, Bendix, and Meritor WABCO have been updating and releasing new AEB systems, adding more sensors, improving algorithms, and including capabilities for more diverse braking situations.

As such, IIHS is calling on automakers to equip vehicles with effective AEB systems that detect both vehicles and pedestrians and work well in all lighting conditions.

About the Author

Commercial Vehicle Staff

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