Gridlock Guy: Automatic braking mandate step closer to driverless cars

Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.

I have taken a lot of heat from readers of this column because of my insistence that self-driving cars will one day become the norm on Atlanta streets and with that transition, our traffic woes will become a problem of the past.

Last week, automakers and transportation officials took a huge step in proving my theory correct with a mandate for automatic braking in vehicles a standard feature by 2022.

Automatic braking uses technology (cameras, radar and other sensors) that allow the vehicle to slow or stop if a driver doesn’t react quickly enough. The technology is already here, and last week’s agreement means it will be implemented, lives will be saved and in turn traffic will get better.

“Their (automakers) commitment is to provide this feature on virtually all new cars by 2022 and heavier trucks and SUV’s by 2025,” said Mark Rosekind of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In total, 20 automakers, representing more than 99 percent of the American car market announced that automatic braking will be a standard feature by September 2022.

“They (automakers) have pivoted from crash mitigation to preventing crashes from occurring in the first place,” said Deborah Hersman, president of National Safety Council. “A hundred people die every day on our roadways, and a hundred more people are going to die tomorrow all because of factors that we know how to prevent.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that this technology will reduce rear-end crashes by 40 percent. As someone who has reported on Atlanta traffic for almost 19 years, I can tell you that a majority of the incidents that we cover are rear-end crashes.

This automatic braking technology will help to mitigate the sharp rise in incidents we have seen due to distracted driving (mostly smartphone related issues such as texting.)

If we can cut out 40 percent of these types of crashes, imagine the positive impact it will have on our traffic flow, both on side streets and interstates.

“It’s an exciting time for vehicle safety. By proactively making emergency braking systems standard equipment on their vehicles, these 20 automakers will help prevent thousands of crashes and save lives,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “It’s a win for safety and a win for consumers.”

The biggest question for consumers is what will the cost be to have these automatic braking features become standard.

“Each of these technologies is relatively small in expense, usually only a few hundred dollars, but in aggregate they can result in a substantial portion of a car’s price, especially for lower-priced models,” Karl Brauer senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book told ABC News. “The rising cost of modern cars is driven by many factors, and this is definitely one of them.”

As I mentioned, this a huge step toward our future, completely self-driving vehicles.

“As we barrel towards autonomous driving, the agreement makes total sense,” Akshay Anand Kelley Blue Book analyst said. “Expect more technology features to become industry-standard going forward.”