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Technology Could Usher in a New Age of Ultra-Safe Cars

NBC News, 3/27/2016 -- As part of a unique industry-government consortium, American motorists will soon find virtually every car, truck and crossover on the market equipped with a breakthrough safety system called Automatic Emergency Braking.

But that's likely to be only the start. The same group of 20 automakers, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, plans to push even more advanced safety technology into tomorrow's cars faster than would normally be possible under the slow and cumbersome regulatory process.

Experts say such moves — which will help lead up to an era of fully autonomous vehicles — could yield huge benefits in terms of lives saved, as well property damage prevented.

Autonomous Emergency Braking, or AEB, alone has been shown to reduce the number of rear-end collisions by as much as 40 percent, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind earlier this year suggested it may be possible to bring the total number of U.S. highway fatalities — which topped 32,000 in 2014 — down to zero in the not-too-distant future.

To get there, automotive manufacturers and suppliers are taking a two-pronged approach, starting with improvements in passive safety — systems like seat belts and airbags designed to keep occupants safe in a crash. The latest vehicles are expanding the use of high-strength steel, carbon fiber and other materials which, along with new designs, absorb much of the energy of a crash before it reaches the passenger compartment. 

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