40 countries agree cars must have automatic braking

GENEVA — Forty countries led by Japan and the European Union — but not the U.S. or China — have agreed to require new cars and light commercial vehicles to be equipped with automated braking systems starting as soon as next year, a U.N. agency said Tuesday.

The regulation will require all vehicles sold to come equipped with the technology by which sensors monitor how close a pedestrian or object might be. The system can trigger the brakes automatically if a collision is deemed imminent and if the driver doesn’t appear set to respond in time.

The measure will apply to vehicles at “low speeds”: 60 kilometres per hour (42 mph) or less, and only affects new cars sold in the markets of signatory countries — so vehicle owners won’t be required to retrofit their cars and trucks already on the roads today.

The United States, China and India are members of the U.N. forum that adopted the new regulations. However, they did not take part in the negotiations because they want to ensure that their national regulations keep precedence over U.N. rules when it comes to the auto industry.

In 2016, 20 automakers reached an agreement with the U.S. government to put automatic emergency braking on all new vehicles by September of 2022, but compliance is voluntary. In the most recent report on the safety technology from 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that four of the 20 automakers — Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volvo — had made automatic braking standard on more than half their models.

Jason Levine, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, said lack of U.S. participation in the U.N. group is embarrassing for a country that once led in auto safety.

“It is yet another indication of the auto industry in the United States and the Trump administration’s complete lack of leadership when it comes to the safety of everyone on the road,” Levine said Tuesday.

A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from NHTSA, the U.S. highway safety agency.

The requirement will start taking effect next year first in Japan, where 4 million cars and light commercial vehicles were sold in 2018, said Jean Rodriguez, the spokesman for the agency, called United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, or UNECE. The European Union, and some of its closest neighbours, is expected to follow suit in 2022.

UNECE says the countries that agreed to the deal want to be more pro-active in fighting roadway accidents, particularly in urban settings where obstacles like pedestrians, scooters, bicycles and other cars in close proximity abound. The agency pointed to more than 9,500 roadway deaths in the EU in 2016, and EU Commission estimates that the braking systems could help save over 1,000 lives a year in the bloc.

Apparently wary that the regulations might be seen as a step toward giving artificial intelligence precedence over humans, the drafters put in clear language in their resolution: A driver can take control and override these automated braking systems at any time, such as through “a steering action or an accelerator kick-down.”

UNECE says the new rules build on existing U.N. rules on the braking system for trucks and buses, mainly for safety in higher-speed motorway conditions.

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