Safety technology such as automatic emergency braking has proven effective in cutting in half the number of rear-end collisions, and significantly reducing the number of serious injuries caused by the most common type of crash on American roadways, according to a sweeping new study released Tuesday.

The study, produced in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation and eight automakers, as well as crash data reported by police in 13 states, was called “the largest government-automaker study to date about the real-world effectiveness of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in passenger vehicles.”

Results culled from crashes that occurred between January 2016 through August 2021 found that vehicles equipped with forward-collision warnings (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB) reduced rear-end collisions by 49% compared to vehicles without the equipment that rear-ended another car. Injuries from the same type of crash were 53% lower in those instances where the vehicle that hit the lead car had the driver-assist technology. There were 42% fewer serious crashes in cars equipped with FCW and AEB.

The study also found that active lane control reduced single-vehicle crashes where the car leaves the road, such as when people fall asleep behind the wheel, by about 9%.

Overall, the results corroborated a smaller but statistically significant study from the IIHS, the nonprofit safety agency known for its AEB testing in doling out Top Safety Pick awards.

The data for the effectiveness of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to avoid hitting pedestrians was incomplete due to the relative newness of that bit of technology.

FCW detects the potential for collisions and alerts the driver through visual, audio, or haptic warnings, whereas AEB takes that a step further and actually applies the brakes to mitigate or avoid a crash if the driver doesn’t. Twenty automakers made a voluntary pledge to equip 95% of new cars produced with standard automatic emergency braking by Sept. 1, 2022. By the end of last year, most automakers had complied.

Vehicles equipped only with FCW reduced rear-end collisions by 16%, proving that the higher level of intervention from AEB was far more effective. Many safety advocates call AEB the most significant safety feature in reducing crashes and traffic fatalities since electronic stability control was mandated by the NHTSA for all 2012 vehicles and beyond. The study also found that AEB works well in most conditions, “even when roadway, weather, and lighting conditions are not ideal.”

Most automakers bundle such advanced driver-assist systems as standard on new cars, and that’s one small but contributing reason new car prices continue to reach record highs. Inflation and the digitization of the cabin are much more prominent factors, however. It’s a small price to pay relative to a troubling trend.

In 2020, an estimated 2.3 million people in the U.S. were injured in traffic crashes, including pedestrians, and 38,824 people were killed in crashes. Traffic fatalities in 2021 increased at the highest rate in recorded history, with 42,915 people dying.

The extensive study, conducted by a third-party nonprofit called Mitre Corp, shows that a partnership between the government and automakers can provide data to support the public good of making roadways safer.

“Public-private partnerships are yet another tool to help accelerate the development and adoption of life-saving technology to protect all road users,” Ann Carlson, the NHTSA’s acting administrator, said in a statement.

Formed in 2018, the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety (PARTS) analyzed data from 47 million passenger vehicles, mostly cars and SUVs, from the 2015-2020 model years. The data set represented a total of 93 different vehicle models from General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stellantis, Subaru, and Toyota, accounting for 65% of passenger cars on U.S. roads. Ford joined the partnership this month so Ford vehicles are not included in this study, but in subsequent ones the combined automakers account for nearly 80% of the U.S. passenger car market.

That data was paired with 12 million police-reported crashes from 13 states provided by the NHTSA.

Pickup trucks benefit from AEB

In a separate study also released Tuesday morning, the IIHS found that AEB reduces rear-end collisions by 43% for pickup trucks equipped with the technology. Pickups were excluded from the voluntary agreement to mandate AEB on new cars sold by Sept. 1, 2022, yet pickups account for nearly 20% of vehicles on U.S. roads.

“Pickups account for 1 out of 5 passenger vehicles on U.S. roads, and their large size can make them dangerous to people in smaller vehicles or on foot,” Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, manufacturers have been slow to equip them with AEB and other crash avoidance systems.”

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