US to mandate lane departure warning and auto braking by 2011?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will decide whether to require two advanced safety features in new cars: systems that warn drivers when they are leaving a lane, and automatically brake ahead of an impending crash.

Safety experts say both systems show significant promise to sharply reduce the more than 40,000 yearly traffic fatalities and 2.5 million injuries in vehicle crashes.

In a report released Wednesday, NHTSA said it “will decide whether to require automatic crash-imminent braking … (and) automatic lane-keeping” in 2011. It also sought public comment on its plans.

NHTSA Exec: “These are two very promising technologies, but whether or not you can justify through cost-benefit analysis, requiring them remains to be seen.”

NHTSA already has developed a performance test for frontal-crash and lane-departure warning systems that it plans to make a part of its revamped New Car Assessment Program starting in the 2011 model year.

Forward-collision warning systems alert drivers, using radar, that they are quickly approaching a car or an object; in some cases, they automatically apply the brakes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the systems could help in the 2.3 million annual frontal crashes that result in 7,200 deaths — or more than one in every six road fatalities.

Lane-departure warning systems alert drivers who may be dozing off or distracted that they are leaving their lane. In some cases, the vehicle automatically shifts the car back into the lane, unless the driver overrides it.

The insurance institute said lane-departure systems could impact 483,000 crashes per year, keeping many of those vehicles on the roads — like a virtual rumble strip. About 10,000 highway deaths occur annually when vehicles leave the roadway.

Both of those systems are on a number of luxury and higher-end vehicles. Because of the expense, however, automakers haven’t added the technologies to most vehicles.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and six other automakers, said it was studying the report.

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