It Only Takes Once for Advanced Safety Technology to Pay Off
Study says some advanced safety systems deter accidents better than others, but take it from me: they’re all good.
Advanced safety systems such as lane-departure and forward-collision warnings are designed to help prevent accidents and are becoming increasingly common across vehicles of varying price points. But as Cliff Atiyeh recently reported here, a report released last week by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that some advanced safety systems help more than others -- and that one in particular is associated with increased insurance claims.
After studying these features in vehicles from Acura, Buick, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, HLDI concluded that collision-warning systems that alert drivers to potential front crashes and adaptive headlights that turn in conjunction with the steering wheel have helped drivers avoid accidents; however, the study also found that lane-departure warning (LDW) systems do not -- and that, from a statistical standpoint, vehicles with the feature actually showed an increase in reported accidents.
I’ve sampled many such systems in a variety of vehicles, but fortunately haven’t experienced a near-crash situation in order to test them under real-world circumstances. But I do have an aftermarket system with LDW in one of my own vehicles, and it has alerted me to at least one close call.
HLDI analyzed how the three safety features affected insurance claim frequency for damage and injuries among vehicles that ranged from the 2000 to 2011 model years, depending on when the related features were introduced. Automakers provided HLDI with identification numbers for vehicles that had each feature, allowing researchers to compare insurance records for those vehicles against the same models without the feature.
While HLDI noted that data from the study is somewhat limited -- advanced safety features are still relatively new, after all -- it found that the forward-collision and adaptive headlight systems caused a slight statistical decrease in the number of claims relative to cars that don’t have the features. In contrast, lane departure warning systems from Buick and Mercedes were associated with an increase in claim rates.
Although HLDI said in a press release that the rise wasn’t “statistically significant, the results suggest that these particular systems aren't reducing overall crashes.” HDLI researchers also stated that they can’t fully explain why LDW systems apparently increased claim rates, but speculated that “as a proportion of all crashes … drifting off the road is not common” and “it may be that drivers are getting too many false alarms, which could make them tune out the warnings or turn them off completely.”
I have a system from Mobileye, a company that supplies similar technology to many automakers, installed in my family’s 2008 Honda CR-V. It uses a camera to look for objects that the vehicle is closing in on ahead, or whether it’s drifting out of its lane and sounds an alert and flashes a warning if something is amiss. Because of its frequent warnings, sometimes I wish I could turn off the Mobileye system. But it has only a tiny -- and temporary -- defeat button on the top of the small display, which lowers the volume but is reset each time the car is turned off.
I vividly recall one instance in which I was glad I didn’t turn the system off, because it may have saved me from an accident. I was driving on a twisty, though not particularly dangerous canyon road when I looked down for a couple of seconds to change the station on the radio. A warning from the system let me know I was drifting out of my lane – towards a very steep drop-off without a guard rail. Not only did the system warn me that I was close to launching off a cliff, but it also reminded me to pay more attention to the task at hand.
While advance safety technology isn’t a substitute for vigilant driving, it can act as an extra set of eyes in certain situations. I don’t need a study to tell me that these features can be effective and help prevent accidents, and I also welcome active safety becoming more mainstream.
Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.
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