AEB - Automatic Emergency Braking

It could change your auto-accident practice dramatically within three years

Stuart Zanville
2019 October

It’s time for a quiz and some education. This class is about cars. The quiz is only one question, but I want you to take it seriously. It might change your legal practice.

Ready? Here you go:

Question: “What is the meaning of the acronym AEB?”

Answer: “Automatic Emergency Braking.”

OK, the words don’t sound ominous. But if you’re like most CAALA members, AEB is going to have a dramatic effect on your practice within the next three years.

Exactly what is AEB?

According to John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, “AEB is a set of three technologies that use combinations of radar, reflected laser light and cameras to prevent collisions. The technology alerts a motorist that a collision with a car in front is imminent; intervenes when the driver doesn’t respond and applies supplemental braking to avoid a collision.”

In other words, AEB stops your car if you are about to hit something in front of you.

You may not be able to explain AEB, but you’ve seen lots of car commercials touting each manufacturer’s new safety systems. In dramatic and very emotional TV spots, the new technology stops a car before (choose one) a child, a mom, a grandma, a deer or another car is struck by a distracted driver.

In addition to making driving safer, how does AEB affect CAALA members?

I don’t have exact numbers, but I can assure you that a hefty percentage of CAALA members handle auto cases, and a large percentage of those are the result of rear-end collisions.

So how would AEB affect those types of car crashes?

Christopher Mims wrote in the Wall Street Journal this summer that “according to new data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, AEB reduces rear-end crashes by 50% and reduces crashes with injuries by 56%. In the U.S., there were 1.7 million such rear-end crashes in 2012, resulting in 1,700 deaths and 500,00 injuries, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB has estimated that this technology could eventually reduce fatalities and injuries from rear-end crashes by 80%.”

When will AEB be available?

The short answer to that question is: Now.

This may come as a surprise to some people who think the technology is still years away. All too often, discussions of AEB are lumped into conversations about robot cars, i.e., self-driving vehicles. For many people, including a lot of trial lawyers, this causes confusion. Robot cars and trucks are a big topic of discussion, and many legal issues are being debated at this time. But even though robot cars are being tested on some city streets, they are years, maybe even decades away from being commonplace. That’s not the case with AEB. That technology might be in your car now.

AEB is available as an option on many cars, mostly luxury vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 10 automakers report that half of the vehicles they produced between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018 were equipped with AEB. The 10 include Honda, Nissan and Toyota, but the majority are luxury carmakers like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo. They report that at least 93 percent of their cars were equipped with AEB technology.

That sounds like a lot of cars, but in three years, those numbers are expected to grow dramatically. That’s when trial attorneys who handle auto cases will begin to see their practices impacted (no pun intended). That’s because NHTSA has obtained an industry commitment that will make AEB standard on virtually all light-duty cars and trucks no later than September 1, 2022. That is less than three years away.

Twenty carmakers have signed on to the voluntary commitment plan, and they represent more than 99 percent of the U.S. new-car market. In addition to luxury car manufacturers, the list includes Ford, GM, Toyota and Volkswagen. IIHS research shows that AEB systems on cars that meet the industry commitment would reduce rear-end crashes by 40 percent and that by 2025, the commitment will prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries. That is good news for drivers, but it is news that may cause attorneys who handle auto cases to think about their practices.

While the NHTSA numbers sound good, consumer advocates such as Consumer Watchdog believe that NHTSA should have done even more to protect consumers by making the AEB standards mandatory, not voluntary.

Consumer Watchdog and two other consumer advocate groups petitioned NHTSA to make the commitment mandatory, but the government agency declined. The petition asked the government to ensure that all motorists are protected by available safety technologies, not just those in higher income brackets. Harvey Rosenfield from Consumer Watchdog wrote that “the technology could prevent thousands of deaths and injuries and billions in property damage, from rear-end crashes.”

Regardless of whether the commitment from carmakers is voluntary or mandatory, AEB will change the number of collisions that trial attorneys handle and how they handle them. Many CAALA members will watch the developments closely, including recent news that the government is investigating more than 80 consumer claims that one manufacturer’s AEB system malfunctioned or failed, resulting in collisions.

Consumer attorneys protect people from unsafe products, and that will not change with the implementation of AEB. What will change is how the practices of CAALA members are affected by the new technology that will be on most cars in a matter of months.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail: stuart@caala.org.

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