ATLANTA — It’s technology designed to save lives and prevent crashes on the road.
But could flaws in vehicle automatic emergency braking systems be causing accidents instead?
Channel Two investigative reporter Justin Gray discovered hundreds of official complaints filed with federal regulators.
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You can very easily imagine the potential danger. A car going down a busy road or even at high-speeds on the interstate and the brakes suddenly slamming the car to a stop.
Crash test videos from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show how helpful automatic emergency braking or AEB systems can be in preventing an accident.
They’ve been called a game-changer and IIHS projects the technology could cut rear-end crashes in half.
But what if that system doesn’t work how it should?
Instead, the car brakes when it’s not supposed to.
“It just break. And I was like, holy crap!” Simone Crawford said.
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Crawford says it happened multiple times in her 2019 Nissan Rogue. The automatic braking system just kicking on out of nowhere
“It felt like, oh my god, that’s how you feel. That’s the thing that comes to mind, oh my god, and then you start looking to see if there’s anyone around you,” Crawford said.
Ann Morris-Webb experienced the same thing in her 2020 Nissan Rogue.
“I was driving down the road, I was going 45 miles an hour down the road. And all of a sudden it slammed on brakes,” Morris-Webb said.
More and more cars now have this technology because back in 2016 twenty automakers agreed to voluntarily make automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all of their new vehicles by September of 2022.
Now that the technology is here, it’s not just Nissan experiencing problems.
In February, federal regulators at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or NHTSA posted notices to its website that it has received hundreds of similar complaints about 2018-2019 Honda Accords and 2017-2019 CR-Vs and 2021-2022 Tesla Model 3s and Model Ys.
NHTSA has launched a formal investigation into the automatic braking systems from both automakers.
“Every time it does it you want to throw up it’s like a nauseating feeling you get in your gut,” Crawford said.
Because automakers voluntarily decided to do this, Michael Brooks from the Center for Auto Safety says there are no standards or regulations to follow for these systems. Brooks says that could be contributing to the problem.
“Every automaker builds these systems differently and they all rely on different cues and different sensors to determine when the vehicle is going to be put into that emergency braking,” Brooks said.
Simone Crawford’s Nissan Rogue was in and out of the dealership multiple times for more than a year.
After being told it was finally fixed, she was barely out of the parking lot when the braking system malfunctioned again.
“I started heading out towards the interstate, like quarter mile away from them. It did it again. And that time I really freaked out because it was 5 pm traffic. I felt like I wanted to throw up because there was cars behind me. There were cars in front of me. And I was like, I’m gonna die. I was like, this is a death trap,” Crawford said.
Help from federal regulators is coming. A notice of proposed rulemaking from NHTSA outlines a new regulation requiring automatic emergency braking systems.
Critically it would “set performance requirements and would specify a test procedure under which compliance with those requirements would be measured”.
“We’re hoping that NHTSA takes the lessons that it learns in these investigations of the vehicles that are on the road now and can take those lessons, put them into a performance standard that prevents these type of incidents from occurring in the future,” Brooks said.
Nissan finally agreed to buy back Simone Crawford’s Rogue. She said it had gotten to the point she was afraid to leave the house, too worried the system designed to avoid a crash was going to cause one.
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“I didn’t go out visiting my family. I didn’t go hang out with friends. Because I kept thinking, if this car stopped, I will die,” Crawford said.
Along with open investigations into Tesla and Honda by NHTSA, there are class action lawsuits filed against Nissan and Honda over automatic emergency braking systems. As far as that new federal rule, NHTSA told Gray to expect to see something in writing along with a public comment opportunity.
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