Automatic Brakes Helped Stop Truck in Berlin Terror Attack

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On December 19, a terror attack in Berlin claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 48 when a terrorist drove a semi truck into a crowded Christmas market. It stopped within 250 feet and there’s evidence that the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system kept it from traveling further.

It’s not what any of us think of when we consider the benefits of automatic emergency braking. The average person sees it as a life-saving feature when the driver’s attention slips or if an accident happens too quickly for a driver to react. No one thinks about it as a safety measure to keep terrorists from using your car as a weapon, but that’s what this safety tech did in Berlin.

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Initial reports indicated the truck was moving erratically, possibly as Lukasz Urban, the truck’s driver, was still alive and fighting to stop the terrorist. Urban was shot and stabbed by terrorist Anis Amri and died from his injuries.

While it’s possible Urban did fight to stop the truck or alter its direction, it’s now known that the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system engaged when it sensed a collision. This could also explain the erratic driving as the terrorist tried to get the semi to continue despite the safety system.

The European Union has required automatic emergency braking on all trucks over 7,716 pounds since 2012. The idea wasn’t to thwart terrorists but to reduce rear-end collisions. If this truck didn’t stop itself, then the injuries and loss of life in Berlin might have been much worse.

In the United States, we have no such law for commercial trucks. It’s not even a law on passenger vehicles, despite evidence that this technology makes us all safer. The results have been so positive that automakers are voluntarily making it a standard feature on cars.

It might sound odd that there isn’t a law requiring automatic emergency braking, but voluntarily adding it to cars is faster. The regulatory process is a slow one. Waiting for official regulations could delay industry implementation for years.

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The goal in the United States is to have the feature standard on all light-duty cars and trucks under 8,500 pounds by Sept 1, 2022. This will be followed by vehicles between 8,501 pounds and 10,000 pounds by Sept 1, 2025. That covers a lot of vehicles, but semi trucks are still off the list for this technology. The terror attack in Berlin gives a solid reason for making it standard on every vehicle, especially large ones.

Watch the system at work in a Volvo FH. Imagine you’re the guy in the vehicle that almost gets rear-ended. This technology can’t come soon enough.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin