New car crash avoidance systems earn high marks

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Technologies designed to prevent auto collisions are not only becoming an option in more vehicles, but the systems are earning high marks.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested collision-avoidance systems on 19 new models, giving its highest rating of "superior" to 14 of them. The other five models were rated "advanced," the second-highest designation.

"We've seen an uptick in the number of luxury and mainstream models with available autobrake," said Dave Zuby, chief research officer for IIHS. "That's a welcome sign for highway safety and helps pave the way for the eventual deployment of fully autonomous vehicles."

Many of the vehicles that earned "superior" ratings are luxury models, including the BMW X3, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Acura MDX.

However, IIHS said seven mass-market models, including the Mazda 6 and Chrysler 300, also offer technology designed to prevent front-end collisions.

The IIHS tests measure the amount of time it takes a vehicle to stop while traveling at speeds of 12 miles per hour and 25 miles per hour. As the vehicles approach a barrier that resembles the back of an SUV, their crash-prevention systems kick in, alerting the driver to brake. Some of the models also feature technology that automatically forces a vehicle to brake to avoid a crash.

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Since their introduction several years ago, collision-avoidance systems have been lauded for limiting the severity of accidents where one car rear-ends another. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates approximately 1,700 people are killed in rear-end crashes every year, with another 500,000 injured in those accidents.

The NTSB has called for collision-avoidance technology to be mandated as a standard feature in every new vehicle, though there has been some pushback from the auto industry.

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Forward collision-warning systems are currently an option in half of the 784 new models being sold in 2015, according to the institute. However, just 27 percent of all new models offer collision-avoidance systems that will automatically brake to prevent a rear-end crash.

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Jake Fisher, who oversees auto testing for Consumer Reports, said crash-avoidance systems are a proven technology on the cusp of becoming a standard feature.

"If you are not alert, [are] looking down or something happens quickly, this is going to stop you from rear-ending somebody," he said. "This has the potential to stop a lot of accidents."

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