FOX13 Investigates: Can we rely on new automatic safety features in our vehicles?

MEMPHIS, TENN. — When we hit the road, we depend on our seat belts, brakes and airbags to protect us, but what about automated safety features?

In Hernando, Leah Heath told FOX13 the automatic emergency braking on her 2019 Honda CRV has falsely triggered at least three times over three years, slowing her down suddenly and unexpectedly.

“At least one time was on the interstate,” she recounted. She added, “I just don’t think it’s safe.”

Federal regulators are investigating dozens of complaints about unexpected braking in her model of SUV.

Automatic emergency braking is standard on all new vehicles – it might be in your card already.

In research released this September, AAA tested four vehicles with automatic emergency braking features.

  • At 30 mph, the safety feature prevented 85% of rear-end crashes
  • At 40 mph, the safety feature prevented 30% of rear-end crashes

However, in left-hand turn tests, AAA reports that the safety feature did not prevent a single crash.

“Alarmingly, 100% of the time, this technology failed,” said Megan Cooper, an AAA spokeswoman.

Personal injury attorney Ryan Saharovich told FOX13 he was troubled by the AAA test results.

“The higher rate of speed you’re going and the higher speed an impact occurs, the more likely it is that more significant injuries are going to occur as well,” Saharovich said.

He said more drivers are blaming wrecks on these automatic safety features.

“I think everyone deserves that the research has been done so the vehicles are safe before they’re actually out there,” he said.

Car manufacturers warn that AEB is not designed to prevent all crashes. Drivers are warned to always pay attention and exercise due caution anytime they are operating a vehicle.

Attorney Austin Alders is involved in cases where drivers allege automatic emergency braking caused crashes. He said automated safety features could work against the instincts that drivers develop.

“It might cause people to be less defensive,” Alders said. “We’re still people. We’re still humans. We have human error. It’s even worse when you don’t try and you’re just depending on something else to take care of everything for you.”

Heath has reached a breaking point, choosing instinct over innovation. She knows technology won’t make or “brake” her safety on the road.

“It’s very scary to me,” she said.