Study: Mixed safety bag on crash-avoidance technology

John Egan

Some crash-avoidance technologies are leading to a reduction in wrecks, according to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, while other types of crash-avoidance technologies aren't showing any positive results yet or even are harmful.

Forward-collision avoidance systems, particularly those that can brake automatically, as well as adaptive headlights, which shift direction as the driver steers, are contributing most to a reduction in crashes, according to the study. Forward-collision warning systems alert a driver if his car is gaining on the traffic ahead of it so quickly that the vehicle is about to crash.

Meanwhile, blind-spot detection and part-assist systems aren't having an effect on crash statistics, the study shows. Lane-departure warning systems actually appear to be harmful rather than helpful, but researchers aren't sure why.

“As more automakers offer advanced technologies on their vehicles, insurance data provide an early glimpse of how these features perform in the real world,” says Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “So far, forward-collision technology is reducing claims, particularly for damage to other vehicles, and adaptive headlights are having an even bigger impact than we had anticipated.”

Analysts looked at how each feature affected claim frequency under several kinds of insurance coverage for damage and injuries. Researchers saw a reduction in claims under liability insurance, which covers damage caused by an insured vehicle to another vehicle, and collision insurance, which covers damage to the policyholder's vehicle.

The Highway Loss Data Institute examined forward-collision systems on Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles. The frequency of liability claims for Acura and Mercedes vehicles were 14 percent lower when the vehicles were equipped with forward-collision warning with automatic braking than when they weren’t. Volvo’s automatic braking system also reduced crashes 10 percent, but that finding wasn’t statistically significant because the Volvo system comes bundled with lane-departure warning and fatigue warning technologies.

Mercedes and Volvo also offer versions of forward-collision warning that don’t include automatic braking. These appeared to lower crash rates, too, but not to the same extent as models that do include it.

As for lane-departure warning, Moore says the technology "may end up saving lives down the road, but so far these particular versions aren’t preventing insurance claims," Moore says. "It may be that drivers are getting too many false alarms, which could make them tune out the warnings or turn them off completely. Of course, that doesn’t explain why the systems seem to increase claim rates, but we need to gather more data to see if that’s truly happening.”

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