Cars are the safest they've ever been -- and they're about to get safer

You can probably credit the smartphone and distracted driving for the auto industry’s recent blitz of safety improvements.

Today, you can buy a vehicle that stops and steers itself, and keeps its own lane on the highway.

Generations ago, the move was to implement seatbelts, and later, airbags to help prevent serious injuries or death in a crash.

Today, car makers are conjuring up technologies that will help stave off the crash entirely, or at least minimise the impact.

Automatic braking is a key a feature in that effort. Manufacturers have been developing the technology for some time now, but currently there is no regulation requiring it in passenger cars.

But that’s changing now.

On Thursday, 20 automakers reached a voluntary agreement to include automatic braking in cars and light trucks as standard equipment by 2022. Heavy SUVs and pickup trucks will be required to have it by 2024.

The agreement is strictly voluntary, but it could set in motion renewed legislative efforts to write those requirements into law.

Industry experts are applauding the deal. Mark Rosekind at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told The Associated Press the agreement will encourage lawmakers to act more quickly to make standard automatic braking a requirement.

More than 200 people are killed in rear-end crashes in the US each year, according to The Associated Press. Some 400,000 others are injured, at the cost of about $47 billion.

Automatic braking is already available on a wide range of vehicles, to be sure. Currently, 88 of the best-selling models have auto-braking as standard or optional equipment.

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