Report: Auto-braking more available, works better – USA TODAY
Some cars that advertise automatic brakes really can stop the vehicle in time to prevent crashes — and there are enough of them that the insurance industry safety tester is issuing report cards on them.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, well-known for its crash-test ratings, now is performing non-crash tests and rating increasingly available (standard or optional) front-crash avoidance systems. The first test was last September, followed by another late last year. The latest score card, announced today, is for large and midsize vehicles.
Of 24 tested this time, eight got the highest rating — superior — by automatically stopping the cars in time to prevent crashes at both 12 mph and 25 mph. The others were rated “advanced” or “basic” for their front-crash prevention
The lowest score — basic — went to cars with auto-braking systems that don’t fully stop the cars in time, but at least minimize the impact, IIHS says.
A vehicle no longer can qualify for IIHS’ top overall rating — Top Safety Pick + — unless it meets all the other crash test criteria and gets at least a basic rating in front-crash prevention. Automakers who get that “+” rating advertise it heavily, and IIHS is tightening its standards to require increasingly better crash-prevention scores to get the “+” part of the rating.
Exotic not long ago, optional self-stopping systems have migrated to small, modest-price sedans such as Mazda3 and Honda Civic, are offered in more family sedans such as Chevrolet Malibu and Subaru Legacy, and are easy to find among crossover SUVs such as Mitsubishi Outlander, GMC Terrain and Toyota Highlander.
“This technology is moving into the market surprisingly quickly. It’s good to see,” says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.
“It can get very confusing” because the systems are sold under many different names, Zuby says. Examples: Audi has “Pre-Sense Front;” BMW has a variety of systems, including “Collision Warning with City Braking;” and General Motors’ system names include “Automatic Collision Preparation” and “Collision Mitigation Braking.”
More than 90 vehicle models now have or offer systems that are designed to stop the car when a crash is imminent, even if the driver’s foot isn’t on the brake pedal. The systems use a variety of cameras, radars and lasers to compute when a car is getting too close, too fast, to a car ahead.
Typically, auto-brake systems warn the driver with a flashing light or audible alarm, then hit the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond. Some merely slow the car to minimize the crash impact; others will stop it at low speeds. The best, in IIHS’ view, prevent a crash altogether in the institute’s 12 mph and 25 mph tests approaching a balloon barrier.
Often part of expensive options packages, auto-brake systems not only can raise the price of your car but, ironically, also the price of your insurance.
Because the systems are very expensive to repair when they don’t prevent a crash, some insurers charge more for cars with auto-brake.
But, Zuby says, “We know some insurers offer discounts. There’s no rule of thumb.”