The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have yet to release a joint Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for automatic emergency braking (AEB) on new commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). However, numerous indications point to automatic emergency braking as the next safety technology included on all new trucks, though it may not come via the government’s usual rulemaking process.
Typically, NHTSA specifies new vehicle standards and FMCSA requires its use and maintenance in trucking operations. And a look around shows the federal government paying a lot of attention to AEB:
- AEB on trucks is part of the Biden administration’s Unified Regulatory Agenda.
- AEB is found in the House and Senate infrastructure bills.
- The FMCSA’s “Tech-Celerate Now” program promotes AEB among new truck technologies.
- The “Drive-SAFE Act” (S. 659) proposing an apprentice program for under-21 truck drivers specifies automatic emergency braking as a requirement in any CMV used in the program.
- The “Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act,” (H.R. 3523) which calls for speed limiters on trucks, would allow a higher maximum speed on those equipped with AEB.
What is automatic emergency braking?
AEB is a safety technology that applies braking force in response to input from radar, lidar, lasers, cameras or other sensors without, or in addition to, braking action by the truck driver. AEB can significantly reduce or completely eliminate certain collision impacts. According to industry research cited by FMCSA in the “Tech-Celerate Now” program, widespread use of AEB in trucking could eliminate 5,300 rear-end collisions, 2,700 injuries and 55 fatalities annually. Combining AEB with air disk brakes and adaptive cruise control systems could accomplish even more safety improvement according to the research.
AEB is not some newly developed technology of the future. Some trucks already rely on automatic emergency braking. AEB applications first became possible for trucks in the 1990s through the introduction of forward-looking radar. By 2007 radar was combined with automatic emergency braking and with adaptive cruise control under prominent braking manufacturer labels.
Initial AEB versions experienced some false activations. While the early vehicle radar systems they relied on could detect moving objects in the road ahead, they would fail to detect stationary objects like a stalled vehicle. Those technical problems were largely overcome by 2015. Still, research by FMCSA suggests that these negative first impressions, combined with motor carrier concerns over cost and difficulties in integrating new technologies into existing vehicles, provide guidance for a path forward. FMCSA is calling for new AEB performance standards for vehicle manufacturers while actively encouraging the voluntary adoption of AEB in new truck purchases.
These federal agencies appear to be moving down this two-prong path. The FMCSA’s “Tech-Celerate Now” program encourages voluntary adoption of new truck technologies. The Unified Regulatory Agenda would require NHTSA to begin establishing AEB performance goals on commercial motor vehicles in April 2022.
NHTSA and FMCSA may next engage truck manufacturers to include AEB on all new trucks, leaving the precise design and integration of features up to the manufacturers, as long as they meet the coming NHTSA performance standards. AEB on passenger cars and light-duty trucks took this same path. In that case, 20 automakers, representing 99% of new car sales in the U.S., agreed to voluntarily equip all new passenger vehicles with low-speed AEB, including forward collision warning, by the end of August, 2023. Those automakers are already nearing that goal. Expect truck manufacturers, and the trucking industry, to be next up for AEB.