When harm comes from safety tech, what to do?


The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

“There’s a real concern that this issue is emblematic of a bigger picture for driver-assist systems, whether it’s AEB or some other features that have such tremendous potential,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, which petitioned NHTSA to open a preliminary evaluation of the Rogues in March. “But because of the haphazard way in which they’re being introduced and the total laissez faire nature of NHTSA’s oversight, there’s a real risk of undermining public confidence in these safety features and technology.”

Among safety features being rolled out in new vehicles, automated emergency braking may hold the most potential to reduce injuries and save lives.

These systems use cameras and radar to detect obstacles in the path ahead — and deploy the brakes to avert collisions. But last month, federal safety officials opened a probe into a system installed on more than 553,000 Nissan Rogues from the 2017 and 2018 model years that, according to complaints filed by consumers, are slamming on the brakes even when no obstacles exist.

More than 800 motorists have lodged complaints about false positive incidents with Nissan Motor Co. and NHTSA.

Automatic emergency braking systems use cameras and radar to detect obstacles and deploy the brakes to avert collisions, but sometimes they brake unnecessarily. Motorists and industry experts say these things may be misread as obstacles:

  • Bridges
  • Railroad tracks
  • Metal in the ceilings of parking garages
  • Smoke or steam

Fourteen crashes have been attributed to the braking malfunctions, resulting in five injuries. Those numbers perhaps pale compared with the benefits of automated emergency braking systems: In February, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that automatic emergency braking “reduces the frequency of property damage liability claims by 13 percent, rates of rear-end crashes by 50 percent and rear-end crashes involving injuries by 56 percent.”

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