AEB or auto emergency braking: Not all systems are created equal
AEB is one of the most significant steps forward in terms of car safety in recent years, but different systems and brand terms can easily confuse consumers.
AEB or Auto Emergency Braking follows on from a legacy of other, very helpful, three-letter acronyms that may have saved your life or insurance policy in the past like ABS (Anti-lock braking) or ESP (Electronic stability control).
The system works by using a series of sensors to measure the distance between the car and objects in front of it. Those signals are processed by the car’s computer, and if an imminent collision is detected the vehicle will apply the brakes automatically, if the driver has not responded in time. You can read more about how it works here.
To give you an idea for the effectiveness of these systems, a study by Euro NCAP and ANCAP back in 2015 revealed that the introduction of low-speed AEB systems resulted in a 38% reduction in real-world rear-end collisions.
This has prompted ANCAP to make AEB a requirement for new vehicles to score a maximum five-star rating (from 1 January 2018 onward).
However, as manufacturers scramble to place AEB in vehicles across their ranges to keep up with these requirements, confusion has started to set in.
There is a plethora of brand terms like ‘Brake support’, ‘Smart City Brake Assist’, ‘pre-collision assist’ etc. that become a minefield for buyers, and worse still, no two systems are the same.
Some systems will only support braking at less than 30km/h, some only support it from 60km/h plus, and some support it at freeway speeds north of 200km/h. Even when you get to reading the specifications, manufacturers can be (arguably deliberately) vague about the conditions under which their AEB systems will work.
Some brands place AEB under an umbrella of other active safety items (like Toyota’s ‘Safety Sense’ suite), yet the abilities of the system can change from car to car, so the presence of branded suites is no guarantee of performance.
Toyota also does not specify a minimum or maximum speed for its AEB systems, although ANCAP rates the 2019 Corolla’s ‘interurban AEB’ score as “good” at speeds up to 180km/h. The Prius has not been tested to the 2018 standards.
Subaru uses a unique stereo camera setup for its safety suite. Now in its third-generation, Subaru says it chose its visual-spectrum EyeSight suite over a radar system so that multiple technologies, such as lane keep assist (LKAS), adaptive cruise control and not just AEB, are all controlled by one set of hardware.
EyeSight's stereo cameras use triangulation to determine the distance from objects and one advantage of using the visual spectrum is that the cameras are also capable of detecting brake lights.
Subaru's Eyesight technology is available across its entire range in Australia, apart from the BRZ sports coupe, and is capable of supporting full emergency braking up to a speed of 50km/h (although, it exceeded this offical number in ANCAP tests, working up to 70km/h).
Over at BMW, active safety falls under the umbrella of ‘BMW ConnectedDrive’ and AEB falls under a term called ‘City Brake Activation’ which is said to work between 10km/h and 60km/h.
Some BMWs, like the recently updated X4, can be fitted with ‘Drive Assist Plus’ which will work in tandem with the Active Cruise Control to produce AEB at freeway speeds that remain unspecified.
Mazda’s AEB systems are broken into two grades, with ‘Smart City Brake Support’ standard across most Mazda models covering city speeds, as well as the more advanced ‘Smart Brake Support’ on more expensive models like the CX-8 supporting emergency braking up to 80km/h and working in tandem with active cruise systems beyond that at ‘freeway speeds’.
It is worth noting that AEB working in tandem with active cruise control will not always support full emergency braking at freeway speeds. Most manufacturers refer to this discrepancy as ‘two-stage braking’ or ‘brake assist’.
What this means is that while the car can detect an imminent collision at freeway speeds, it may not necessarily come to a full stop without human intervention.
The car will automatically apply brakes to slow the vehicle, but requires human intervention to depress the pedal further to get the vehicle under its AEB threshold, which as you’ll know by now, can be city speeds as low as 30km/h.
To best determine whether a vehicle from any manufacturer supports freeway speed AEB, look it up on ANCAP’s website and pay attention to the ‘AEB Interurban’ score.
Keep in mind this will only apply to vehicles rated after ANCAP’s change of criteria from the 1st of January 2018. ANCAP now tests the AEB systems of vehicles from 10-180km/h and covers a variety of potential impact scenarios.
As Auto Emergency Braking technology is under constant scrutiny and evolution and therefore in a constant state of change, make sure you research each vehicle thoroughly to determine the functionality of the system on the specific variants you are considering.