(Changes dateline to Washington, recasts with confirmation, adds details)
By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. auto safety regulator plans to change its vehicle safety ratings program to include automatic emergency braking systems, putting pressure on automakers to add those features to new cars and trucks, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Thursday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)will add the braking systems to the recommended safety features included in its New Car Assessment Program, which awards up to five stars for vehicles based on safety.
Whether a vehicle has the braking systems will not impact how many stars it receives, which currently is based on crash tests.
Foxx, who made the announcement at the Washington Auto Show, said adding the braking systems to assessment program would encourage consumers to consider them when purchasing a vehicle and pressure automakers to make the innovation more widely available.
The proposed change to the program, which will undergo a 60-day public comment period, was first reported by the Detroit News.
An automatic braking system utilizes forward-looking sensors to detect an impending collision and applies the brakes, or applies additional braking pressure if the driver is not pressing hard enough on the pedal.
Foxx said in the future NHTSA would also consider including the braking systems not just as a recommended safety feature but as part of the five-star ratings themselves.
According to NHTSA data, one-third of all police-reported crashes in 2013 involved a rear-end collision with another vehicle. The agency said it found that in many crashes drivers did not apply the brakes or did not apply them fully before the crash.
NHTSA's support of automatic braking could benefit a number of automotive suppliers, including companies that make brake components and electronic controls, as well as such related technologies as sensors, microprocessors and software.
Traditional brake component suppliers include Germany's Continental AG, South Korea's Mando Corp, Italy's Brembo SpA and England's TI Automotive . They also include these Japanese companies: Akebono Brake Industry Co, Aisin Seiki Co, Denso Corp and Nissan Kogyo Co.
Leading U.S. brake component suppliers include TRW Automotive Holdings and WABCO Holdings.
As more manufacturers incorporate automatic braking into collision avoidance systems, some non-traditional suppliers stand to benefit as well.
They include Israeli startup Mobileye, a maker of vision software for vehicle cameras, and Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that has begun supplying high-powered microprocessors to automakers.
Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman and Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Shumaker