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Self-braking vehicles top safety groups' wish lists

Many lives would be saved and deadly road accidents avoided if vehicles could automatically stop themselves. That seems to be the thinking behind the latest calls from safety advocates for changes they'd like to see in automotive technology in 2016.

A formal petition signed by three big-name consumer activists and presented to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month presses for making three new technologies standard in motor vehicles. All of them would aim to reduce rear-end crashes, which proponents says would result in fewer fatal accidents and reduce property damage by billions of dollars.

The request, signed by Consumer Watchdog, The Center for Auto Safety and former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook, calls for using radar, laser reflection technology and cameras in combination to make it possible for vehicles to self-brake when an imminent collision is sensed.

The groups note that all the automatic emergency braking technologies in question are already proven and available in some high-end cars. In addition, they point out that NHTSA has already indicated support for them by agreeing last fall to look into whether manufacturers of trucks should be required to install the equipment in their vehicles as a way to avoid deadly accidents.

Not surprisingly, auto manufacturers would rather see such safety standards be a matter of voluntary adoption, rather than mandatory. But the petition says if the technology becomes mandatory in heavy trucks, it should be made standard in every vehicle as a minimum standard of safety for every driver.

Whether relegating emergency braking to computer sensors is a good idea is certainly worthy of debate. Today, when accidents occur in Texas, it is typically the result of human error, negligence or recklessness. Such technology may well improve safety, but accidents will still occur. And for the protection of victim's rights, accountability and liability will still need to be assigned.

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