Automatic braking systems perform poorly in AAA crash tests

Automatic emergency braking has a lot of room for improvement.

That’s the conclusion of a study released Thursday by AAA, which crash-tested four models with the feature from four automakers: the 2022 Chevrolet Equinox LT, 2022 Ford Explorer XLT, 2022 Honda CR-V and 2022 Toyota RAV4 LE.

Rear-end crash performance, a test in which vehicles sped toward another directly from the back, was better than other forms — but still had issues, especially surrounding speed.

At 30 mph, the vehicles prevented a collision 85 percent of the time. When the speed was increased to 40 mph, that dropped to 30 percent.

Matt Lum, an automotive technical engineer with AAA, said much of that difference comes from automakers needing to balance the sensitivity of their automatic braking systems.

“Part of the trade-off of balancing minimization of false positives while maximizing efficiency or effectiveness is that, at higher speeds, there are going to be, unfortunately, a lot of cases where an impact won’t be avoided completely,” Lum told Automotive News.

Intersection-based crashes, such as those resulting during left turns, performed even worse. None of the systems that was tested prevented a single crash — and notably did not alert the driver or slow the vehicle’s speed.

“I don’t think these current systems, whether it be from a hardware or software perspective, are more or less equipped to handle those types of situations just yet,” Lum said.

AAA’s study comes on the heels of a similar one released in late August by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that tested vehicles’ ability to detect pedestrians at night. It found automatic braking systems performed poorly in that situation.

The solution to these issues? Lum said it mostly comes down to R&D at the automakers.

“We think that, obviously, additional R&D on these would be very prudent and resources well spent,” Lum said. “Further developments in both hardware and software should make future systems more effective in these more complicated situations.”

On the IIHS study, David Harkey, president of the institute, told Automotive News he was confident automakers would improve the systems and, ultimately, make them more reliable.

Lum mirrored Harkey’s sentiment when discussing AAA’s study.

“We’ve already seen that [automatic emergency braking] is among the most effective types of [an advanced driver-assistance system] out there,” Lum said. “There is already good progress on that, but obviously there is still room for improvement.”

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