Each year, nearly 1.35 million people are killed in road crashes worldwide, and as many as 50 million others are seriously injured, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, although automobile traffic decreased during the pandemic, crash fatalities rose drastically. This led to the largest six-month spike ever recorded according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Speeding, distraction, impaired driving, and not wearing a seat belt were among the top determinants of these crashes.
Rear-end collisions commonly occur when a driver is distracted, is not paying attention, or is following dangerously close to another vehicle. Without minimizing the human behaviors that contribute to crashes, there are other ways to help prevent rear-end crashes.
One safety feature that can reduce the number of accidents occurring each year is an automatic braking system. Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is a safety technology that activates the vehicle’s brake system when necessary. By initiating braking in the presence of dangerous conditions, AEB mitigates crashes when the driver fails to react adequately. If the driver does not use the brakes, the system senses the probable impact and automatically activates the brakes. All AEB systems detect vehicles, and many can also detect pedestrians and cyclists. Systems vary from pre-charging brakes, to slowing the vehicle speed to substantially reduce damage and potential for injury. Some of the more advanced systems completely take over the operation of the brakes and stop the vehicle before a collision occurs.
AEB systems have many benefits. Most notably, they save lives. They reduce the nature and extent of injuries. They also save money by lowering insurance rates and preventing property damage. According to Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), front AEB systems offer more lifesaving benefits while rear automatic braking systems tend to limit mishaps caused by backing up. Since drivers tend to travel at lower rates of speed in “Reverse” gear, rear backing systems prevent a vehicle from hitting other objects, vehicles, or pedestrians during backing maneuvers.
Over the course of my career, I have handled many cases in which an automatic emergency braking system would have prevented the life-changing nature of my client’s injuries. Rear-end collisions have caused fatal injuries, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and serious orthopedic injuries for my clients. Two cases involving high school-age boys illustrate how the collision outcomes would have been completely different if the semi-trucks at issue had been equipped with an automatic emergency braking system.
On a fall day my client, Andy, who was a junior in high school, was driving home from cross country practice. Following all relevant traffic laws, he stopped on a two-lane highway to wait for oncoming cars to pass, with his left turn signal engaged. In a split second and without any warning, a semi-truck crashed into the rear end of his car, propelling it into an oncoming car. Andy’s vehicle caught fire as he was trapped inside. Fortunately, an off-duty firefighter witnessed the crash and was able to pull Andy from his burning car. As we discovered, the semi-truck driver had been distracted while driving and was not able to stop in time to avoid hitting Andy’s car. Andy suffered serious, life-threatening burns over much of his body. After many, many surgeries and a prolonged period of rehabilitation, he was able to return to school to finish high school. While Andy has been able to regain many aspects of his life and participate in physical activities he enjoyed before the accident, he is not without permanent limitations.
A freshman in high school, Garrett was new to his school. The high school football coach had recently convinced him to play on the school’s team. He and his parents were excited about the upcoming season and the new friendships Garrett was making. After a fall football practice, Garret accompanied some family friends who were traveling to a local park. He was a passenger in the backseat of their car. As they stopped to turn left on a two-lane highway, a semi-truck crashed into them from behind. The crash catapulted the car into an oncoming, large pick-up truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer. Garrett, along with another passenger, was killed. The driver of their car was seriously injured and left with a permanent and life-changing brain injury. As in Andy’s case, the semi-truck driver claimed he did not see their car, with its left turn signal on, and rear-ended the car in which Garrett was inside. His was another life lost as a result of inattentive driving.
While not all rear-end crashes are as horrific as my clients’, these accidents are far too common. AEB systems could prevent accidents, or greatly lessen their impact if widely used. On a hopeful note, more than a dozen “major automakers equipped nearly all their 2021 vehicles with automatic emergency braking (AEB), a technology that has been proven to reduce crashes and injuries by stopping or slowing a vehicle if a collision is imminent. That number has increased by two automakers since last year and shows that more manufacturers are on their way to meeting a voluntary commitment to equip nearly all vehicles with AEB by the production year beginning Sept. 1, 2022. The report comes from Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Overall, the IIHS estimates that if all manufacturers meet the agreement, it could prevent 42,000 crashes and 20,000 injuries by 2025.”
Automatic emergency braking systems are far from perfect and more needs to be done to improve them. For example, the systems do not pick up pedestrians at night conditions. But, they have proven effective at reducing crashes and related severity of the injury.
At Coluccio Law, we work to push for more safety on our roadways and in our communities. By holding those responsible for injuries caused by vehicle collisions we are able to push for more safety and also for advancements in technology such as Automatic emergency braking systems.