Automatic emergency braking (one of various names for the systems) uses radar, lasers, and cameras to see as far as 650 feet in front of a truckabout three times the typical follow distance on highways. They first signal a driver of upcoming obstacles, and then, if the driver doesn’t react, will slow or stop the vehicle. The technology has been available for nearly a decade, and is already in service in tens of thousands of trucks across the U.S. and Europe.

The NHTSA’s acceptance of the petition is “a significant step forward,” according to Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety. CAS joined with other safety groups to petition for the rule.

There are still several stages left in the process, but many in the industry think the rule will eventually go into effect. “It’s just a matter of when,” says industry veteran John Flynn, CEO of fleet management provider Fleet Advantage. The systems are already scheduled to become mandatory on many new commercial trucks in the European Union starting Nov. 1.

Flynn also points out that the life cycles of large trucks have gotten much shorter in recent years, thanks in part to steadily rising fuel economy standards. That means the new safety technology would penetrate the commercial fleet quickly once a rule is enacted.

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