Washington — Three consumer advocacy groups are suing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to respond to a petition calling for the agency to require automakers to adopt automatic emergency braking
NHTSA announced in March a voluntary agreement with 20 automakers that called for most major car manufacturers to make automatic emergency brakes standard by 2022. The agency said the deal represents “more than 99 percent of the U.S. auto market.”
The Consumer Watchdog and Center for Auto Safety groups and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen, petitioned the agency in January to make the automatic braking requirement mandatory.
The groups filed a lawsuit Nov. 23 against the agency in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., that alleges NHTSA violated a law requiring a response to petitions within 120 days of receiving them.
NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said Wednesday the petition is under review. He declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.
Federal regulators cast the voluntary agreement it reached with automakers to install the automatic braking systems by 2022 as a “historic commitment” by auto companies to boost the safety of U.S. roadways.
Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and one of the lawyers in the case, said NHTSA has been too focused on the possibility of developing self-driving cars instead of working to make the automatic braking requirement mandatory.
“This year, NHTSA has devoted enormous agency resources to ‘driverless vehicles,’ which are years or even decades away, while a safety system that is ready to start saving lives right now has been relegated to the whims of the auto companies,” Rosenfield said.
Michael Brooks, acting director at the Center for Auto Safety, added: “NHTSA continues to allow automakers to introduce advanced safety features at their own pace, by issuing ‘voluntary’ guidelines with no force of law.
“For too long, the agency has postponed requiring the proven lifesaving technology of Automatic Emergency Braking,’ Brooks said. “NHTSA should immediately issue a rulemaking that defines performance requirements for these systems and mandates their installation in all vehicles without delay.”
The voluntary commitment from automakers call for automatic braking systems to be made standard on virtually all light-duty cars and trucks that weigh less than 8,500 pounds or less by September 2022. The deal calls for heavy trucks be equipped with automatic brakes by September 2025.
Claybrook, the former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen, cast doubt on the effectiveness of voluntary regulations.
“Voluntary standards don’t work,” Claybrook said in a statement on Wednesday. “They protect manufacturers, not consumers.”
Adina Rosenbaum, the attorney at Public Citizen, added: “The agency’s time to respond to the petition has long since passed. The agency should end its delay at once and comply with its statutory obligation to respond.”