From 2014, cars will need an autonomous emergency braking system fitted if they’re to receive a five-star rating from Euro NCAP — the European new car safety assessment programme.

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) can help avoid crashes or mitigate their effects by warning the driver than a collision is imminent, applying maximum braking force when the driver presses the brake pedal and even braking without the driver’s intervention.

Such systems use some combination of radar, lasers and video cameras to form a real-time image of the road ahead, and an on-board computer system then figures out when an accident is likely.

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According to Euro NCAP, AEB can reduce accidents by up to 27%, but its recent survey found that it is currently unavailable on 79% of cars sold in Europe and 66% of manufacturers don’t offer it on any of their models.

Premium car brands tend to have AEB fitted either as standard or an option, but Mazda, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen are starting to offer it on more mainstream models.

Michiel van Ratingen, Secretary General of Euro NCAP, said: “A faster penetration of these technologies into new cars will make it more realistic for the European Union to reach its target to cut road deaths by 50% by 2020.”

“Euro NCAP has decided to include AEB assessments as part of the overall star rating from 2014 onwards and hopes that European authorities will soon require AEB as mandatory on all new vehicle types.”

Recent research conducted in the US by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that AEB systems were more effective in reducing accident rates than other automatic safety systems, most notably those that use lane-departure detection.

Euro NCAP has grouped AEB systems into three categories: City systems that can avoid low-speed impacts at speeds up to 12.5mph; Inter-urban systems that can avoid impacts at up between 30 and 50mph; and Pedestrian systems that can avoid collisions between pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Continental Tyres is also working on an AEB system to prevent secondary collisions after an initial impact — the idea being that the driver may be incapacitated, or too shocked to apply the brakes.

The full Euro NCAP report on AEB systems is also available to read.