Collision avoidance tech should be standard on all cars, US safety agency says

Currently available only as an option on certain cars, the sensor-driven technology should be installed on all automobiles and shouldn't cost the buyer extra, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB says the Subaru Outback is one of the few cars that comes standard with a complete forward-collision avoidance system. Sarah Tew/CNET

Collision avoidance systems have the ability to save lives, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, if only the auto industry would make the effort to install them on all cars.

In a report released Monday, the NTSB found that rear-end collisions kill around 1,700 people each year and injure around 500,000. But more than 80 percent of those deaths and injuries could have been prevented if the cars had been outfitted with a collision avoidance technologies, according to the NTSB, a federal agency that investigates transportation-related accidents.

In development for the past 20 years, collision avoidance systems use sensors to detect an imminent crash with another vehicle. If such a crash is detected, the system either alerts the driver or automatically applies the brakes or steers the car in a different direction to avoid an accident.

Different types of systems are available in a variety of cars. But despite recommendations by the NTSB over the years, the auto industry has been hesitant to make such systems standard in all cars. The NTSB sees the matter as one of public safety, while the auto industry describes it as one of consumer choice, believing that the customer should decide whether such a system should be installed. In many ways, the debate echoes that over seat belts, air bags and other auto safety features that were once optional and are now standard.

In its report, the NTSB found that only 4 out of 684 cars released in 2014 included a complete forward collision avoidance system as a standard feature. One was the Mercedes-Benz G Class 4X4, and three were vehicles from Subaru -- the Forester, Outback and Legacy. Further, even when such systems are offered as an option, they're typically packaged with non-safety related features, making the car more expensive.

The NTSB wants automakers to install collision avoidance systems as standard in new cars, starting with systems that warn of you an impending crash and then adding technology that automatically applies the brake to try to avoid the crash. Further, the agency wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create tests and standards to rate the collision avoidance systems in all vehicles and add that information to the car's safety rating.

And what's the response from the auto industry?

The vice president for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an association of 12 of the largest car manufacturers and an advocacy group for the auto industry, believes that collision avoidance systems should remain an optional feature. And she's citing consumer choice as the reason.

"There are almost two dozen driver assists on sale now, and some consumers may prefer a 360-degree camera view or parking assist," Gloria Bergquist, the company's vice president, told the Associated Press. "Automakers see automatic braking as helpful to consumers, but consumers should decide what they want and need."'

The NTSB believes that the array of choices for collision avoidance systems, both now and in the future, shouldn't keep the auto industry from implementing some type of technology as a standard feature.

"The promise of a next generation of safety improvements has been used too often to justify inaction," NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said in a press release. "Because there will always be better technologies over the horizon, we must be careful to avoid letting perfection become the enemy of the good."

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