GM’s autobrakes are working, IIHS study finds

Advanced crash prevention systems are now included in many new car models, at least as an add-on option. Automatic emergency brakes and forward collision warning are features that attempt to prevent crashes by responding before the driver does.

A recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of General Motors (GM) cars with the technology shows that these features actually work. 

Details of the study

Previously, the IIHS had conducted a study of vehicles that have the combination of forward collision warning and autobrake crash prevention features, including Acura, Fiat, Chrysler, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and Volvo cars. The results from that study showed that these technologies reduced front-to-rear wreck rates by 50 percent for crashes of all 70 levels, and that cars with only the forward collision warning but no autobrake still cut back accidents by 27 percent.

Following that initial report, the organization looked to GM, which encompasses the car brands Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. The models studied were from the years 2013 to 2015 and were equipped with these same two elements of the crash prevention system. Researchers found, again, that they do prevent crashes.

Vehicles that had both autobrake and forward collision warning were found to have 43 percent fewer wrecks of all severity levels and 64 percent fewer wrecks with injuries than their counterparts without the crash prevention system. These results were based on police-reported front-to-rear accidents in 23 states.

For those GM vehicles that only had forward collision warning, accidents were down 17 percent for all front-to-rear crashes and down 30 percent for crashes with injuries.

The vice president for research at the IIHS, Jessica Cicchino, who also authored both of the aforementioned studies, said that these systems work best when they don't rely on the driver's response.

Automatic brakes and forward collision warning help drivers avoid crashes.Automatic brakes and forward collision warning help drivers avoid crashes.

How do crash prevention systems work?

Automatic braking systems in GM cars comprise both front and rear autobrakes. Front automatic braking systems will apply brakes if the system detects a coming collision, the driver has not applied the brakes, and the car is in drive. The brake system can apply brakes either moderately or hard depending on the intensity it detects is required. The technology uses front radars and/or cameras.

According to Motor Trend, GM says that before the autobrakes are initiated, the driver will see and feel alerts, such as a flashing light in the windshield, seat pulses, or high-pitched beeps.

Just like the front autobrakes, the rear autobrakes attempt to avoid collisions coming from the rear when the car is in reverse. Using sensors and radars, the system will deliver similar alerts such as seat pulses or beeps.

Forward collision warning technology is just a caution to the driver that a collision is imminent. This system doesn't actually apply the brakes, but, as the results of the IIHS study show, it can still work well on its own to prevent accidents.

Almost all automakers in the U.S. have indicated they will incorporate automatic emergency braking in all new passenger cars by September 2022, the IIHS says. And since 2015, GM has been incorporating advanced crash prevention in more of its models.

While these new technologies can be expensive add-on options in cars, as more brands start including autobrakes and collision warning technology as standard in their new models, a greater number of drivers will be able to benefit from these crash prevention systems. 

It can be hard to keep up with brake regulations that change regularly. To ensure brakes and related components are manufactured up to exacting standards, request a complimentary brake testing consultation from Greening.