Many newer models are equipped with forward collision warnings, which sound an alarm if the vehicle gets too close to the one in front of it. But automatic braking systems take the technology one step further, autonomously applying the brakes if the driver doesn't respond quickly enough.
IIHS researchers compiled data from U.S. police reports in 22 states from 2010-?14 and found that vehicles equipped with automatic braking were 39 percent less likely to rear-end other vehicles than those without this technology.
That compares to a 23 percent reduction in vehicles outfitted with forward collision warnings alone.
"The success of front-crash prevention represents a big step toward safer roads," said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, in a statement. "As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end crashes."
Even when automatic braking systems fail to avoid a crash, they are effective in reducing the number of injuries by slowing the speed of impact. The study found that the rate of rear-end crashes with injuries decreased by 42 percent with auto-braking.
Currently, these systems tend to be optional equipment, except on some higher-end luxury vehicles. But, according to IIHS, the technology is becoming more prevalent and may soon be required.
Last September, as reported by Edmunds, IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reached an agreement with 10 automakers to make auto-braking standard on all models in the near future. In fact, NHTSA says car shoppers should look for such systems when they hit the showroom.
Those manufacturers — Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo — are working to bring the technology to vehicles "as soon as possible," NHTSA said in a statement.
NHTSA said the cost of these systems "varies significantly depending on the type and number of sensors used." But they may add hundreds of dollars to the bottom line.
Edmunds says: In light of this study, consumers shopping for a new vehicle may want to put automatic braking on their priority list.