Automatic braking systems come into focus

As vehicle manufacturers add more automatic and even autonomous features to their offerings, consumers may have a number of reactions to the newly available tech. Some such as park assist may be welcomed because they are relatively simple, straightforward and low-risk. Others that can double as safety and convenience features – like automatic braking systems – could be met with feelings that are decidedly mixed.

For instance, some automakers have braking systems that can detect a potential problem ahead of the vehicle and automatically apply the brakes, but do so in different ways depending upon a number of different factors, according to AutoTrader. Audi's "Pre Sense" automatic braking systems can detect vehicles at high speeds, but smaller objects that may be in the roadway – such as pedestrians, cyclists or animals – cannot be detected in time to avert a crash if the vehicle is traveling at more than 40 or 50 miles per hour.

Other automakers, such as General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, have similar systems in place that will begin applying the brakes in events where crash risk increases, but usually after first alerting the driver with visual, audio or even touch-based cues, the report said. Honda's system, too, has been shown to avert crashes at relatively low speeds.

Vehicle operators cannot rely solely on automated braking.Vehicle operators cannot rely solely on automated braking.

The big issue some may have
When it comes to these systems, the big concern from many safety experts is that drivers cannot allow their attention to lapse even if they have the knowledge that such a system may help them avoid an accident. According to The Truth About Cars, this can be even more of an issue when it comes to vehicles with self-driving capabilities, like those made by Tesla and other advanced automakers.

Of course, these software packages are always evolving and becoming more responsive to real-world driving conditions on an ongoing basis, so while they have been rudimentary and perhaps even over-promised their capabilities early on, the features that are consistently being added are always intended to increase capabilities, responsiveness and – consequently – safety.

The more developers do to ensure these vehicles can recognize just about any real-world prompts that would pose a potential crash risk, such as being more responsive to all signage and traffic signals, or identifying when they are approaching an intersection. Even minor improvements in this kind of recognition can go a long way to improving consumer confidence in automatic braking system. However, there still must be more done to ensure these systems work in conjunction with the driver, rather than giving them the impression that they can take their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road.

A ways to go
A recent analysis by AAA found that these pedestrian detection systems aren't quite as effective today as they need to be to keep risk minimized. It noted that, in particular, these systems will rarely recognize pedestrians in the roadway when it's dark out, or when the vehicle is turning. As one might expect, simulations also showed that these systems also struggled to react in time at speeds of more than 20 or 30 miles per hour, so while they are consistently being upgraded and refined, the risk they pose remains significant when vehicle operators are not attentive.

"Our goal with this testing is to identify where the gaps exist to help educate consumers and share these findings with manufacturers to work to improve their functionality," said Greg Brannon, AAA's director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, in announcing the findings.

Brannon further added that while the automakers and software developers behind these systems have a role to play in making automatic braking systems as safe as possible, there's rarely a substitute for drivers keeping their distractions to a minimum and responding to emerging risks as soon as they can.

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