The top federal auto safety regulator on Wednesday proposed requiring all new cars and trucks to have automatic braking systems that reduce the likelihood of collisions. The proposal comes after traffic fatalities and pedestrian deaths soared in recent years, topping 40,000 a year.
The plan from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would require car companies to expand the use of more advanced and powerful systems than those currently installed in some vehicles on the market. The agency is proposing that all light vehicles, which include cars as well as large pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, be equipped to automatically stop and avoid hitting pedestrians at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.
Vehicles would also have to brake and stop to avoid hitting stopped or slow-moving vehicles at higher speeds. And the systems would have to perform well at night.
“We hope this will avoid many crashes,” Polly Trottenberg, a deputy transportation secretary, said at a news conference. “We know this is going to save lives.”
Ms. Trottenberg acknowledged the rule would impose costs on automakers, who have often resisted new safety standards. “I know we’re throwing a challenge out here, but we also know this technology is pretty well developed,” she said. “This is the time to take things to the next level.”
It is not exactly clear why traffic deaths have risen so much in recent years. But auto safety experts have pointed to several factors, including the larger size and weight of cars and trucks and greater distraction because drivers and pedestrians are increasingly using smartphones and other electronic devices. In some places, roads have been designed and lighted to keep traffic moving quickly rather than to protect pedestrians and cyclists.