Earlier this month, 12 people were killed and dozens more were injured when an attacker drove a stolen truck through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin. If it hadn't been for an automatic brake system mandated by European Union rules, however, last week's tragedy could have been even worse.
According German media, investigators say the truck ground to a halt less than 90m after its autonomous brakes sensed a collision. Early reports suggested the truck's injured driver may have stopped the vehicle, but authorities later said he had been mortally wounded before the attack began.
In 2012, the EU passed regulations requiring newly manufactured heavy vehicles to come equipped with advanced emergency braking (AEB) systems, which "detect the possibility of a collision with a preceding vehicle, warn the driver by a combination of optical, acoustic or haptic signals and, if the driver takes no action, automatically apply the vehicle's brakes".
Earlier this year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that car makers had agreed to make such collision avoidance systems a standard feature on virtually all new cars by 2022. In a video released this week, a Tesla equipped with AEB can be seen braking for a crash before it even happens, demonstrating just how powerful automatic brakes can be.
During a similar attack this winter, a terrorist in Nice, France, killed over 80 people by driving a cargo truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day. "This technology has saved lives," said government sources in Berlin, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.