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Top U.S. automakers agree to make auto braking standard

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Anthony Foxx, U.S. transportation secretary, speaks during a Bloomberg Government event on U.S. infrastructure in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 11, 2015. Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ten top automakers, including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., announced they will equip their vehicles with automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems as standard features, though they didn’t set a date.

The system, already available in some vehicle models, uses sensors and radar to determine when a vehicle must slow down; it then begins to flash a warning and apply brakes, slowing or stopping the vehicle even if the driver fails to do so.

“We are entering a new era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Friday, reported by Reuters.

The voluntary decision by automakers to introduce highly advanced – and costly – safety technology speaks to the accelerating pace of development toward self-driving cars, which take over many decisions and actions once the exclusive province of the driver. Many safety experts believe that self-driving or autonomous vehicles will be inherently safer than today’s vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced the automakers’ agreement at IIHS’s research and crash testing laboratory in Ruckersville, Virginia.

“There’s always going to be a need for regulations to keep the public safe,” said Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA. He noted that “regulations are still available, and we use all paths to save lives. The industry in this case though, hasn’t waited for regulation.”

Federal officials say automatic braking can help avoid rear-end collisions, which accounted for one-third of all police-reported car crashes in 2013. Studies, including a recent IIHS report, also show that AEB technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.

IIHS says 1% of 2015 model year vehicles included automatic braking as a standard feature; 26% included the technology as an option.

In addition to GM, Ford and Toyota, BMW AG, Mazda Motor Co., Daimler AG, Tesla Motors Inc., Volkswagen AG and Volvo Car Group, will discuss with NHTSA and IIHS a schedule for rollout of the technology. The companies that are party to the agreement represent nearly 60% of the cars sold in the U.S.

Among the automotive parts suppliers that could benefit are Continental AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi Automotive Plc, Denso Corp and Autoliv Inc.