By on December 1, 2016

car crash (Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) should be mandatory, not voluntary, say safety groups, some of which have sued in order to see it happen.

It’s something of an odd situation, as one of the people behind a lawsuit filed against the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is an ex-NHTSA administrator.

According to The Detroit News, former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook has signed her name to the lawsuit, alongside Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Auto Safety.

The suit alleges NHTSA didn’t respond to the advocate’s petition — delivered in January — calling for mandatory AEB. By law, the regulator must grant or deny the petition within 120 days. Instead, NHTSA arranged a voluntary agreement with 20 automakers to install AEB as standard equipment in almost all of their vehicles by September 1, 2022.

The agreement means that 99 percent of light-duty vehicles on American roads will possess the technology by that date, with heavy trucks following in 2025. Imposing mandatory AEB through regulations, NHTSA said, would take an extra three years, during which time a total of 28,000 preventable crashes (resulting in 12,000 injuries) would occur.

“Voluntary standards don’t work,” Claybrook said in a statement. “They protect manufacturers, not consumers.”

Claybrook served as head of NHTSA during the Carter administration before becoming president of Public Citizen, where she still holds the title of professor emeritus. Her comments were echoed by the other groups behind the lawsuit.

“NHTSA continues to allow automakers to introduce advanced safety features at their own pace, by issuing ‘voluntary’ guidelines with no force of law,” said Michael Brooks, acting director at the Center for Auto Safety. “For too long, the agency has postponed requiring the proven lifesaving technology of Automatic Emergency Braking.”

According to Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, NHTSA took its eye off the ball. The safety advocate has stated that the regulator focused too closely on crafting self-driving vehicle regulations, letting other issues slide.

A spokesperson for NHTSA told The Detroit News that the regulator is reviewing the petition.

[Image: Daniel X. O’Neil/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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66 Comments on “Them’s the Brakes: Ex-NHTSA Administrator, Consumer Groups Sue NHTSA...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Oh brother. I wish all these people would all just pack up and go to planet bubble wrap.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yes.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Or, take your gun and make them pack. This is why you have 2nd amendment in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’ve been rear ended twice this year.

      The first rear ending totaled our beloved 2004 Prius.

      The second rear ending damaged the Mazda5 we bought to replace the Prius. (My wife really wants a 3-row Prius, and our Toyota dealer wasn’t willing to weld Mazda5 body onto a Prius frontend to complete the sale.)

      I was stopped at a stopsign both times. In both cases, the driver behind me had a better view of the oncoming traffic than I did, and they both floored their cars while looking left, while I was creeping forward and bobbing my head around trying to see if the road was clear.

      I sure wish that those drivers had automatic emergency braking. I was kinda surprised that the second guy didn’t, since he had a murdered out JGC.

      Anyway, like ABS, I personally don’t need AEB. But, like ABS, I’ll sure be glad when everyone else has it.

  • avatar
    redliner

    If this is so important, why not do both? Arrange voluntary agreements with automakers, while crafting binding regulations.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I wonder if these idiots at the ‘center for auto safety’ also plan to file suit against the automakers for having cars that are too expensive.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Can we perfect AEB before we install it? My 2013 Accord would beep and flash lights every time I went down a hill, thinking it was a big black truck.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Maybe your Accord self-identifies as a big black truck. They have corrective surgery and hormonal therapy for that kind of thing…

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “thinking it was a big black truck”

      Well, that’s safer than Autopilot.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Perfect AEB first? Why would they want to do that? They didn’t perfect airbags before they rammed them down our throats. As a result, there were a number of very young children who lost their lives in minor parking-lot fender-benders. Joan Claybrook and her cronies couldn’t be found anywhere for comment in those days.

      Look, I’m a fairly progressive person myself. But if people really need AEB that much, perhaps they should be taking the bus. And I’ll bet one won’t be able to turn AEB off, either. And, even if one could, one wouldn’t want to do it: A drunk could blow a light or stop sign and plow right into you with his car that was built the year before AEB was mandated. But, in our twisted world, the crash will be your fault if you had AEB turned off. It wouldn’t be hard for any reasonably competent lawyer to convice a simple-minded jury of that.

      But, regardless of what we say or think, I really believe the train has left the station with all of these safety nannies and, ultimately, self-driving cars. That’s because the train has already left the station when it comes to drivers who simply will not pay attention when they’re behind the wheel. If it was bad before, millenials have sealed the deal. Oh, you’re a millenial who loves driving and takes it serously? Great, you’re the exception that proves the rule.

      Bob Lutz is right: The auto industry may have only 20 more years left (if that much) as we know it. Once cars become highly automated and/or self-driving modules, there’ll be no reason to own one any longer. We’ll all just rent or subscribe to their use when we need one. Most people want that – and they’re going to get it.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        There is no perfect technology.

        Waiting to perfect seat belts before deploying them would have prevented the decades of safety provided by seat belts that were “good enough”.

  • avatar
    Orangecar Blackheart

    So I know I don’t need this, and YOU probably don’t either…

    But I remember how my friends drove as teens. This could have saved some of them. I know how my friends-with-kids drive when the kid is screaming that note that makes the windows rattle. I know how grandma drives.

    Maybe the auto-pilot cars will come and take those people’s keys away. Maybe we’ll all die in a meteor strike.

    But I’ve been rear-ended twice in the past ten years, once while sitting at a red light and once from someone who didn’t see that I was stopping to turn. Braking tech could saved me on those days, and prevented the following weeks stuck in a crap rental waiting for my car to get returned to me with just a little extra depreciation on the CARFAX.

    So sure – this probably won’t make ME drive any more safely than I already do, and will probably annoy the heck out of me, but it will also probably prevent a few more fender benders in my life, and definitely save a lot of families from tragedy.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Okay, but can we get a waiver for manual transmission cars, at least for as long as they exist? If I don’t want my car to shift for me, I certainly don’t want it to brake for me either.

  • avatar
    Sorted Corty

    Really? Sounds like a bunch of lawyers (half of them paid by taxpayers) getting rich. I guess we have to start somewhere – talk about Government Overreach. There certainly is a need for some government regulation but since everyone is so safety conscious these days seems like we should be trending away from this kind of thing…

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “Sounds like a bunch of lawyers (half of them paid by taxpayers) getting rich.”

      Yup. How many of them are engineers or auto mechanics? Busybodies like them are what gives homeowners associations a bad name or why peanut butter is banned from so many schools.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      It’s Government Overreach (in capital letters!) to set standards for vehicles operating on the roads that the government constructs and administers?

      Interesting, tell me more.

  • avatar
    RHD

    I wonder how well this would work in reality, although in theory it would be terrific.
    Would bumper-to-bumper traffic cause sudden undesired braking? Would automatic braking result in getting rear-ended by the car behind you, which does not have automatic braking? Who would be responsible when the system malfunctions?
    Everything based on a circuit board will fail sooner or later. We rely way too much on technology with a life span of just a few years. Motors now last 200K or more with reasonable maintenance, but ECUs and digital speedometer clusters fail as time goes on. Laptop computers get deep-sixed after four or five years because they work slower and slower.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      It’s not really like that. We wouldn’t be relying on the car to stop itself under normal situation…only emergency situations where the driver isn’t paying proper attention. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have it (because I’m like most here who feel they don’t need it), but everyone behind me would have it. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Everything will fail sooner or later, period.

      Given that the vast majority of crashes are due to operator error rather than a functional failure of the vehicle I’m fine with taking some control away from the meatbag and giving it to a circuit board.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      RHD,

      It’s not theory. A lot of cars have automated braking now, and it doesn’t cause any issues. It only intervenes if you are on a collision course and don’t hit the brakes.

      Honestly, you could have the system on your car and not even know it, just like you could drive 100 years without needing airbags.

      The reason why laptops get slow over time is because Microsoft designed their OS to get slow over time. It’s a ploy to get you to buy a new one.

      • 0 avatar
        afedaken

        Ya know, this one really gets my goat. Computer slow? Must be that damned Microsoft. Couldn’t possibly be any one of the hundreds of third party software packages, or poor hardware design on the part of the manufacturer, or a complete and total lack of maintenance on the part of the owner.

        We have an entire community that knows full well the value of maintenance on a machine. They are folks who fastidiously maintain their cars to standards meeting, or often exceeding the factory schedule, who will spare no expense for the best consumables.

        But hand them a computer, and they expect it to just perform. With no maintenance. To the exact same standard as the day it came out of the box.

        When you drop 2 tons in the back of an F150, you don’t expect it to take off as quickly as it did unladen. And you sure don’t expect it to be pristine and rattle free 200K later, with no additional work. Even Toyota won’t promise you that.

        And yet, we’ll install dozens upon dozens of third party programs (That’s computer speak for “Aftermarket parts) neglect scheduled maintenance (I see you there postponing your Windows Updates…) and still expect flawless computing.

        Microsoft has a multitude of sins, many of them related to the architecture operating systems. Many more are related to their questionable business practices. But noone, not even the most cynical of programmers, even the most cynical of Microsoft programmers, would create an operating system to specifically slow down over time.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “But no one, not even the most cynical of programmers, even the most cynical of Microsoft programmers, would create an operating system to specifically slow down over time.”

          HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

          Original Windows XP system requirements included 1.5G hard drive space. Several years and service packs later, it bloated into over 6G hard drive space… not counting any third party applications. That’s a heck of a lot of extra 1s and 0s doing what exactly???

          I’m sure things are way different nowadays :P

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            My 11 year old son can own an unpatched XP box in like 30 seconds. Not exaggerating…Google “NETAPI” or MS08-067. Most of those hot fixes are real vulnerabilities.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “Most of those hot fixes are real vulnerabilities.”

            I’m not doubting that or denying it. I’m pointing out the billions and billions of extra ones and zeroes that the original OS didn’t have. That’s like adding so much crap Honda Civic that it ends up weighing more than a school bus.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          So much this, and it irritates the crap out of me too when people blame MS for anything and everything. Funny, I have a *10yo* Dell D830 laptop that I use every day that I am home, and it is FASTER and more reliable now than it ever was new. Because it has been maintained properly, including RAM and SSD upgrades, and OS upgrades as well. Just like I have a ’74 Spitfire that is faster and more reliable now than it was when new.

          Bottom line, wipe the cruft off once in a while. Microsoft is in no way perfect, but they are generally less bad than the alternatives.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Yes, a technically-inclined user can keep an old Windows box running for a long time, especially if you keep upgrading it like grandpa’s axe. No argument there.

            However, the default configuration will get a lot slower over time, as tons of OS cruft accumulates everywhere, especially in the registry. That’s true even if you run a locked-down MS-only box, as I do at work.

            The same slowdown does not happen with Unix and Linux machines. Anecdotally, I know Mac users who’ve kept machines running productively for almost a decade.

            I don’t consider this to be MS-bashing. It’s just observations from the field.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          I’m still running XP on both my personal desktop and my personal laptop. The desktop is 13 years old and has had a re-install due to a hard drive failure, while the laptop is 11 years old and on the original install. I can be browsing on either within 30 seconds of turning them on.

          I’m very picky about what is allowed to run and install on them though, and I allow very few scripts. I start digging if there is any hesitation in their operation.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Oh yes, I too have a desktop with XP, I still use it from time to time, and overall I’ve (almost) always been quite impressed with XP. I too started over again with a hard drive wipe on that machine about three years ago and that was how I found the OS had bloated to several times its original size and a LOT bigger than the number on the side of the box said I needed. Billions and billions of extra ones and zeroes… more extra bits and bytes than McDonald’s has served hamburgers.

            Anyhoo, just to keep it OT, I can say with a certain confidence that at least in the automotive world, planned obsolescence is hardly ever an issue.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Look man, I do the cyber thing for a living and even if you are running XP fully patched you are still vulnerable to a ton of stuff. Microsoft quit supporting security fixes for XP in 2014. Don’t get your data stolen because you want to be a contrarian. Yes, they will target little old you…your credit card data spends as good as anyone’s. We train new operators using XP to start with because it is so easy to hack. Windows 7 is Fort Knox by comparison and it has vulnerabilities.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Oh- to be clear, all I use XP for anymore is to play Roller Coaster Tycoon or Solitaire if I’m really bored of trolling.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Good. I’d say you are nuts to run XP nowadays anyway but we found a 98 box in the wild not too long ago.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Contrarianism is not a factor. I just like my computers as-is. I guess I value them more than the potential consequences. I will not be upset if Visa and/or Mastercard get scammed.

            I can understand how it might concern some. But I’m not the type to use anti-virus programs, drive with stability control enabled, wear a helmet to ride a bicycle, or avoid frequent unprotected sex with random sluts.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      “Theory”?? You can get AEB on a whole pile of cars shipping today from pretty much every manufacturer. It hasn’t trickled down to base trims yet, but you can get it on nearly every model.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      We just bought a Civic with this feature o drive until we get our Model 3.

      So far, it’s been unobtrusive. The auto-braking system activates some time after I get nervous and put on the brake.

      I did get a collision warning once — when I was parallel parking at about 20mph (it actually made sense given the particular situation, and I’ll explain why if anyone really wants to press the point).

      So far, I haven’t found any disadvantages to the system. It comes with adaptive cruise cobtrol, which is a big plus. Also, the system will really pay off when it’s installed in Silverados and JGCs, judging by my recent experiences.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    Bunk. I don’t the nannies.

  • avatar
    slap

    If Joan Claybrook could have had her way she would have banned motorcycles back when she was the head of the NHTSA.

  • avatar
    brn

    I’m confused. In school I learned that the legislature passed laws. It seems wrong to me that the NHTSA can create what are effectively laws. Now, if they don’t create the “laws” we want them to, they get taken to court.

    How do we sue Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Auto Safety to stop wasting our freaking tax dollars???? As others here have mentioned, they’re only doing it to line the pockets of lawyers.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I consider myself something of a progressive, and even I think Public Citizen and their brethren at the associated Center for Science in the Public Interest should go jump in a proverbial lake.

    I’d say the issuance of a voluntary standard IS a response to their request for a mandatory one; it implies denial.

    And you’d think these folks would be more familiar with the regulatory process; voluntary standards can be issued YEARS faster than mandatory ones because of obligatory checkpoints and waiting periods for mandatory standards. (Publication in the Federal Register of the draft, call for comments, responses to comments, another draft, followed by finally enacting the rules.)

  • avatar
    rpn453

    *Groan*

    Whatever. I have no problem with this. Mandatory automatic braking, that is. Not the silly lawsuit. There certainly are a lot of people who just drive into things that are right in front of them.

    The technology won’t add much cost. As with anything else, I’ll simply disable it if it ever activates against my will.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    There is much safety technology I like. Examples are ABS, stability and traction control, rear view cameras, blind spot monitors, seat belts and air bags. They enable me to perform better than I could without them.

    I do not want anything that overrides my decisions for application of steering, accelerator or brakes. I rejected adaptive cruise control which was an option on my Infiniti. I don’t want to fight the steering wheel to make a turn because lane keeping thinks the car is wandering. If I decide that the best way to avoid an obstacle is to steer around it, the last thing I want the car to do is to kill the throttle and brake hard.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      ABS does override your decisions for brake application.

      If you tell the car to use 125% of available traction the ABS will modulate that down to 100%.

      Likewise, if you as for 60% of available braking force in a situation that actually requires 100% then AEB will modulate your decision up to 100%.

      It’s fundamentally the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “If you tell the car to use 125% of available traction the ABS will modulate that down to 100%.”

        Ummm… sort of, but no such thing as 125% traction, no matter how loud coach yells to give 110% or 120% or whatever. If you lock up all four wheels then you’re using about 80% of your traction. It’s science, man, and the TTAC B&B are bright enough to know better.

        That doesn’t mean ABS uses 100% of your traction- if your car’s tires and ABS are a really great match then they could use almost 100% of your traction.

        Or if your car does not have ABS but it does have really well balanced brakes that are really easy to modulate during threshold braking AND your brakes and tires are a really great match for your car’s weight distribution right now today (weight in the trunk and seats, going up a hill or going down a hill…), then that could also use almost 100% of your traction IF the driver is good at threshold braking. The only physical system I’ve ever seen get close to this is the all disc brake system in the Volvo 240… the driver was the limiting factor. The opposite end of the spectrum was most domestic disc-drum brake systems in the 1970s. Most of them would prematurely lock up the rear tires while the fronts were nowhere near the threshold.

        In reality neither the basic physical systems nor the electronic nanny come close to perfect in every single case… but for ABS I’ll take the electronic nanny to help out the cases when a raw physical system can’t perform well.

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    Gigo. Garbage in ,garbage out. If we automate the need for people to pay attention they will just start paying less attention in other places. I don’t want to have the government legislate bandaids. I would rather them legislate a solution. How about having a driver license process like europe? Make people legally have to take driving serious. Then institute some serious punishment to those who drive crappy. It’ll get the baddies off the road or make damn sure then know that they are supposed to pay attention.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    Would it be more beneficial to take away all safety related tech from cars as a means to aid drivers in being more attentive?

    When driving my 1963 Thunderbird, I am g-darned careful of every action. Drum brakes require planning and proper following distance on the freeways. Being 17′ and approximately 9 turns of the wheel lock-to-lock means slower cornering speeds in the city. No seat belts (not required pre-’64 in WA state) means keep the windows down and hope you get ejected onto something soft). Sat-Nav is looking at a map prior to departure and planning your rout. 450 whp on 215 width tires means pedestrian safety (they hear the tires squealing on launch).

    Problem solved!

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    So if she was at the NHTSA during the Carter Administration is it fair to assume she supported the 55mph speed limit? If so this case should be thrown out and she should be tarred and feathered.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I have to say I’d be onboard with this rule IF it also came with mandatory automatic ACCELERATION logic and overly timid driver/wrong lane logic electro-somatosensory feedback.

    Allow me to describe:

    Sensors and gas pedal servos that make the car accelerate anytime there is a lot of space to the front and not a lot of space to the rear. This would be great for when left lane slowpokes won’t manually get out of the way. I would love to be able to virtually “push” these people.

    Advanced sensors that determine when the driver brings the car to a dead stop when the car in front is still moving. In any traffic jam, there is ALWAYS one person who stops FIRST. There would be electrodes embedded in the driver’s seat to administer a punitive electric shock to the driver every time he or she does this. More sensors would figure out which lane the car is driving. If it is the right lane then the shock is disabled (hey… I’m firm but I’m also fair). If it is the left lane then it is a severe shock; middle lanes would be a moderate shock.

    We don’t have “likes” on TTAC comments but I know I would get a heck of a lot of them for my invention.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    I could happily live in a Joan Claybrook world. She and Nader are credits to America.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This is the second example of regulation-minded Democrats scrambling to lock-in some regulations before The Donald is sworn in. This is how it works:

    (1) A friendly plaintiff sues a regulatory agency alleging that the agency is required to implement some regulation of something within the agency’s jurisdiction. Like AEB here.

    (2)Instead of contesting the suit on any number of available standard grounds, like, say, “you are required to petition the agency to do a rulemaking proposing said regulation and get turned away before you are allowed to go to court,” the agency and the plaintiff enter into a “consent judgment” implementing the rule that the plaintiff wants, because that’s what the agency wants too. They just don’t want to go to all the fuss and bother of issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking, getting comments, etc. (Which can’t all be done between now and when The Donald is sworn in as president).

    The consent judgment binds the agency and getting it set aside is tough.

    Now, this is what’s known in the business as a “collusive lawsuit” and, technically, the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over collusive lawsuit because the Constitution gives courts jurisdiction over only “cases and controversies.” There’s a long line of authority defining what that means, and it’s not a friendly lawsuit. Trouble is, some lazy, sloppy, regulation-minded judges will not “on the court’s on motion” look into the question of whether the lawsuit in front of them is “collusive” and possibly dismiss it. And, since no one else affected by the proposed regulation (in this case, the auto manufacturers) is before the court to make that argument, the “busy judge” just signs the consent decree and off we go.

    Perhaps, if there’s publicity given to the lawsuit, some carmaker can petition to intervene and make the collusive lawsuit argument, stopping this train(wreck). But if the agency and the friendly plaintiff can sneak it by quickly, it will be too late.

    signed Retired no longer practicing federal regulatory lawyer

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    That woman just needs to go away.

  • avatar
    RicInRVA

    Automatic braking = end of manual shifting.

    Just putting that out there.

    • 0 avatar
      Funky

      This is incorrect. For example, the 2017 Mazda 6 w/ manual transmission comes standard with automatic braking (their city safety system). I know this for sure, because the one I ordered has it. In addition, I believe (but I’m not 100% positive) all Mini’s and some Fords also include this safety feature on their cars with manual transmissions.

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