Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have found automated emergency braking systems reduce rear-end crashes by 40 percent, saving countless lives and preventing millions in property damage. Systems that warn drivers of imminent collisions but don't intervene in driving reduce crashes by 23 percent, the study found.

The findings, released in a report Wednesday, underscore the promise of advanced driver-assistance features that more automakers are offering car shoppers – often at an added price. But the technology could soon be available to all drivers of new cars. In September, ten automakers reached an agreement with federal regulators to make automated braking a standard feature on all cars. At the time, federal officials called it a "historic commitment."

There's no timeline on when the agreement will be implemented, but Thursday's findings may add new urgency to those discussions. IIHS says if all cars contained automated braking, 700,000 collisions would have been prevented in 2013 alone.

"The success of front crash prevention represents a big step toward safer roads," said David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS. "As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end crashes. The same goes for the whiplash injuries that often result from these crashes."

Even when crashes can't be avoided, the systems can minimize the severity of accidents. But in terms injury reduction, automated braking provided far bigger benefits than systems that offer warnings alone. The rate of rear-end crashes with injuries decreases 42 percent with autobrake systems, but only 6 percent with collision-warning systems. That wasn't what Jessica Cicchino, the study's author, expected.

"Still, it's surprising that forward collision warning didn't show more of an injury benefit, given that HLDI (the Highway Loss Data Institute) has found big reductions in injury claims," she said.

Front-crash prevention systems go by many names. For this study, researchers looked at systems from Acura, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Subaru models. They analyzed all police-reported rear-end crashes in 22 states and compared the crash rates of vehicles equipped with the technology to those without front-crash prevention.

The accident reductions may offer a glimpse at what an autonomous future looks like on America's roads. Automated braking is considered a rudimentary building block as cars gradually take responsibility for making driving decisions from humans' hands.

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