WASHINGTON -- A group of major automakers accounting for more than half of U.S. auto sales will make automatic emergency braking standard on new U.S. vehicles in one of the nation's biggest auto safety announcements since the introduction of standard airbags in the late 1980s.
The car makers, which accounted for 57 percent of car and light truck sales in the United States last year, will work out an implementation plan in coming months with auto safety regulators and experts, the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said in a statement on Friday.
The makers are Volkswagen and its luxury car division Audi, BMW, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz, Tesla Motors Inc., Toyota Motor Corp. and Volvo AB.
"We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes begin," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the IIHS statement. "But if technologies such as automatic emergency braking are only available as options, or on the most expensive models, too few Americans will see the benefits."
The agreement echoes earlier safety moves by big automakers. In the late 1980s, Chrysler began installing airbags in all its vehicles. In the 2000s, GM, Ford and others agreed to make anti-rollover technology standard on most sport utility vehicles in response to mounting deaths from rollover accidents in such vehicles. Stability control is now mandatory on light vehicles.
Automatic emergency breaking, or AEB, is widely recognized as a life-saving technology that uses radar, cameras and lasers to monitor road conditions and an apply brakes autonomously to avoid collisions. But analysts say it could take several years for automakers to redesign the electrical and braking systems of their cars to enable autonomous braking.
Among the automotive technology suppliers that could benefit from widespread adoption of autonomous braking are Continental AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi Automotive PLC, Denso Corp. and Autoliv Inc.
The technology is currently available as an option in only about 4 percent of cars in North America, according to the business information firm IHS Inc.
Several automakers previously signaled plans to offer autonomous braking on more vehicles. Toyota said earlier this year said that by the end of 2017 it would offer such systems in option packages for nearly all its models, with the technology packages ranging from $300 to about $500 in price.
Federal officials say AEB can help avoid rear-end collisions, which accounted for one-third of all police-reported car crashes in 2013.
Studies, including a recent IIHS report, also show that AEB technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.
IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will set performance criteria for manufacturers and determine how soon car buyers can expect to see AEB technology as standard equipment.