Just How Effective Are Automatic Braking Systems?

A new report from AAA finds driver assisted brakes fail to prevent pedestrian collisions vast majority of times.

Automatic braking systems in newer model cars is used as a selling point at dealerships across the country. But how effective are the automated brakes in preventing collisions with pedestrians? According to a new report by AAA, not very effective at all.

In fact, the report found that the automated braking system which is meant to stop vehicles without driver assistance failed to prevent collisions with child-sized dummies 89 percent of the time. The numbers improved dramatically for adult-sized dummies. In those instances AAA found collisions were prevented just under half of the time.

“A lot of manufacturers are telling these systems as very great safety features that are going to be very valuable,” said AAA spokesperson, Doug Shupe. ”There is no question that they have the potential to be just that, but they're just not there yet. They need to be refined. And as drivers, as consumers, this is really a driver beware story.”

For the tests, AAA looked at four popular sedan models, the Tesla Model 3, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and the Chevy Mailbu. In one scenario, drivers traveled at 30 miles per hour and had pedestrian targets move across the road. At that speed, according to the report, “most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target.”

The automated braking systems performed much better when speeds decreased to 20 miles per hour, avoiding collisions 40 percent of the time.

Shupe says the report shows that drivers need to remain aware while on the road, regardless of safety features.

“Understand that these systems operate differently from one manufacturer to the next and that they're not foolproof,” said Shupe. “You cannot disengage your focus away from the wheel thinking that this system is going to prevent a crash.”

Added Shupe, “These systems have a long way to go before they are going to prevent the types of collisions that we want to see prevented on our roadways.”

Shupe says the automatic brakes performed worse when dark. For those tests, the pedestrian detection system, according to AAA, “proved to be completely ineffective.” 

“This is especially alarming given that 75 percent of the pedestrian fatalities that occur happen at night,” said Shupe. And, these systems are completely unreliable during the dark hours.”

AAA also found the systems failed to prevent any accidents when the vehicles were turning right and pedestrian targets were in their path.

“These systems absolutely have a lot of potential to save lives, but they're not there yet,” said Shupe. “They must be perfected. And in the meantime, as drivers, we have to know that these systems are not perfect and we cannot be disengaged when we're behind the wheel. We can't rely on these systems to protect us to automatically stop the vehicle and prevent a collision. We have to be alert behind the wheel.”

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