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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Automatic braking in cars helps cut down on crashes

Automatic braking in cars helps cut down on crashes

By Jayne O’Donnell

HERNDON, Va. — It's one of the coolest video games around, but it is not available online or at stores. It's Audi's just-out A6 and a million-dollar computer simulator that has the car bouncing off of lane lines and slowing before it crashes into the car in front — without any input from the driver. Warning lights alert when cars are in the blind spot and flash furiously if the driver appears ready to steer into them.

Careening around even the simulated Bavarian mountains would be more daunting if the A6 weren't equipped with all of the latest advanced safety technologies. You almost can't crash during some maneuvers in this would-be video game, which Audi showed off recently at its headquarters here. Even when you do rear-end another car, your belt cinches up, windows and sunroof close and your speed slows enough that, at least virtually, you're far safer than you would have been without what's known as precrash sensors.

But these technologies are hardly automotive fantasies. Many, including intelligent braking that stops — or at least slows — cars if drivers don't act, are already on high-end vehicles including Audi, Lexus and BMWmodels and are trickling down into more affordable cars, including several by Chrysler.

The first real-world evidence that these brakes are keeping people from crashing is being released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. IIHS found that a version of automatic braking in Volvo SUVs prevented one out of four low-speed crashes. That's likely to speed up installation of similar technology in other vehicles and should help persuade regulators to consider rules to require automatic braking, some safety experts say.

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