What is Automatic Emergency Stop Assistance?

Jack R. Nerad | Jul 02, 2020

For some the vehicular version of the Holy Grail is a car that will go, stop, turn, navigate, and get you a toasted cheese sandwich with extra bacon to go along with your cholesterol meds. At the Society of Automotive Engineers, they call that Holy Grail autonomous Level 5 (and the sandwich-getting is not included.) 

2021 BMW 5 Series Blue on Highway

Lovely as Level 5 autonomous driving might sound, we are not there yet. Instead, the industry is now serving up vehicles that offer Level 2 autonomy, otherwise known as partial automation, and active emergency stop assistance technology is increasingly included with such systems.

What is Automatic Emergency Stop Assistance?

Automatic emergency stop assistance is different from automatic emergency braking. Picture a driver having a severe medical problem in the midst of a long Interstate drive. A sudden inability to steer and brake the car could lead to a terrible tragedy. 

To avert that, a handful of vehicles make provisions for it in their automated driver-assist and safety systems. Automatic emergency stop assistance can try to get the driver’s attention with visual and audible warnings, followed by sharp application of the brakes, and then deceleration with the hazard flashers on until the car comes to a safe stop. If the telematics subscription is active, it can even place an SOS emergency call to rush rescuers to the car’s location.

This is a perfect example of Level 2 autonomy, meaning the vehicle can perform some driving functions on its own. Level 2 automation enables the car to perform important things like acceleration, braking, and steering, but only under the watchful eye of its driver. It's kind of like a first-time driver's ed student who can only drive the car with an instructor in the passenger seat. With Level 2 driving assistance systems, the driver is required to assume control at a moment's notice should the situation become too much for the automation to handle. 

But in the emergency medical situation we described, or if the driver falls asleep at the wheel, he or she is incapable of taking control. That’s where automatic emergency stop assistance comes in handy.

Examples of Automatic Emergency Stop Assistance

Currently, automatic emergency stop assistance is proliferating in luxury vehicles, typically as part of an option package that includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology, automatic distance management, and lane-centering assistance. Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz all offer some form of automatic emergency stop assistance. 

Typically, these technologies assist a driver and do not replace a driver. Cadillac Super Cruise is an exception, offering hands-free driving on limited-access highways and a rigorous driver monitoring system to ensure the human being behind the steering wheel is ready to take control at a moment’s notice.

Without a true hands-free driving option like Super Cruise or the Full Self Driving option with Tesla Autopilot, if you remove your hands from the steering wheel, the car will continue to steer itself and maintain its speed, but after a period of time ranging from a few seconds to as long as minutes depending on the system and road, it sounds an audible alarm and a visual warning appears on the instrument display telling the driver to grasp the wheel. 

If the driver does not re-take control, both warnings become more insistent. If that doesn’t result in the driver re-taking control, the technology assumes the driver is no longer able to drive and initiates the process for automatic emergency stopping, which will bring the vehicle to a full stop. 

Depending on the system, this could include the following:

  • Sharp and sudden braking to jostle a sleeping driver
  • Stopping within the lane of travel with the hazard flashers on
  • Pulling to the side of the road with the hazard flashers on
  • Automatic unlocking of the doors to make it easy for rescuers to access the vehicle
  • Making an automatic SOS emergency assistance call on behalf of the driver

Why Automatic Emergency Stop Assistance is Important for Safety

Driver-assistance technologies are rapidly proliferating, expanding their presence from the most modern luxury cars to mainstream vehicles, and in the future many will offer automatic emergency stop assistance. 

This is a much better solution than what many current adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance systems offer when the driver lets go of the steering wheel and doesn’t re-take control of the vehicle. Most simply turn themselves off or go into "standby mode" in circumstances that might call for an automatic emergency stop, putting the responsibility back in the lap of a driver who may have suffered a medical emergency. 

Ultimately, that is where the responsibility belongs. But it would be nice to know that if you become debilitated while you are behind the wheel your vehicle will bring itself to a safe halt. It could be a lifesaver.

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