Found in my inbox this morning. Critics: Consumers to lose in provate talks on auto braking
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators and the auto industry are taking a more lenient approach than safety advocates like when it comes to phasing in automatic braking systems for passenger cars, according to records of their private negotiations. The technology automatically applies brakes to prevent or mitigate collisions, rather than waiting for the driver to act. It's the most important safety technology available today that's not already required in cars. Such systems should be standard in all new cars, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But instead of mandating it, the government is trying to work out a voluntary agreement with automakers in hopes of getting it in cars more quickly. But safety advocates say voluntary agreements aren't enforceable and are likely to contain weaker standards and longer timelines than if the government had issued rules. "Consumers are going to come up the losers in this process," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. ... "This is what happens when you start negotiating with the auto industry," said Joan Claybrook, a safety advocate and NHTSA's administrator during the Carter administration. "They want to negotiate this out and they want to negotiate that out," and establish a deadline driven by their production schedules rather than safety considerations. ... Mark Rosekind, NHTSA's administrator, has said the federal rule-making process is so cumbersome and time-consuming that a voluntary agreement is likely to get the technology into all cars faster. He said regulations remain an option. ... "Regulations can be too rigid when technology like this is changing quickly," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for insurance institute. "A complicated regulation could make it more difficult for the automakers and their suppliers to continue to develop the systems." NHTSA expects that any voluntary agreement will include a mechanism for the government and the public to monitor automakers' compliance with it, said Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for the agency. ... Automatic braking is already available in dozens of car models, but typically as a pricey option on higher-end vehicles. Subaru offers it on the Impreza sedan, for example, as part of a $2,895 safety package. Claybrook acknowledged that federal rule-making is too slow, largely because of White House insistence on elaborate cost-benefit analyses of potential safety rules. ... There are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the U.S., killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about $47 billion annually. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision, NHTSA estimated.