The news in March 2016 is that 20 auto manufacturers and counting have agreed to roll out automatic braking in their cars by the 2022 model year. These are terrific systems and a technology we love and we would argue only that there is little reason other than cost to wait a full six years for full roll out.
Regardless, here are three things to know about these systems.
1) Naming: Pre-collision System, Auto Braking, Automatic Emergency Braking, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Collision Avoidance – these are all names for the same thing and serve only to pump up the egos of manufacturers. There is simply no reason for multiple naming schemes that confuse the average driver who has more than enough to remember about his or her car. Anti-lock brakes has satisfied everyone from the start and never needed embellishment. The trend that somehow allows each manufacturer to give its own moniker to every new safety system is senseless and needs to stop.
Standardize on one name. Period.
2) Presentation. Subaru gets a gold star here. It has been advertising its Eye Sight system for some time, using unmanned cars aimed at static obstacles. By contrast, Nissan and Infiniti have been advertising their systems using drivers in traffic who are simply not paying attention. Hyundai went this route with its Super Bowl ad featuring Ryan Reynolds and Volkswagen has recently got into the distracted driver act. Mercedes has gone both ways, using an obstacle course in one ad and a driver who actually puts a child in the driver’s seat of a fully autonomous vehicle in another. Have the airbags been removed??
We’ve taken Mercedes-Benz and Nissan to task for their advertising in the past. Safety systems are no substitute for paying attention while behind the wheel and certainly not an excuse for essentially teaching drivers that their new car doesn’t need them to pay attention to the road or to the safety of their passengers.
3) Liability. A self driving Google car, with a driver on board but not in control, was recently involved in an accident in California while in testing and Google said a very funny thing. Its car turned into a city bus and the company said “In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility…”. Some responsible? Who else is there to blame?
The industry says that liability issues surrounded autonomous systems have yet to be ironed out. Months ago, Volvo said flatly that it would take responsibility for any accidents that result from a failure of its autonomous features. The roll out of automatic braking is underway and there is no more time to decide. If auto manufacturers are going to install systems that they will claim will stop a vehicle before a collision, then those manufacturers have placed themselves in the path of liability.
This is a collision that cannot be avoided.