Auto Crash-Avoidance Technology Found to Reduce Collisions

By ABC News

Jul 3, 2012 7:28am
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                                                                           (Image Credit: Billy Hustace/Getty Images)

ABC News’ Jim Avila, Matt Hosford and Lauren Ehrler report:

Millions of Americans will be traveling this week, making the Fourth of July the nation’s most dangerous holiday on the highway.

And new technologies could not only be protecting Americans from accidents, but avoiding crashes on the roadways all together, according to a new study released today.

Safety features that help drivers avoid front-end collisions by braking autonomously and headlights that help guide vehicles around corners are, indeed, reducing crashes, according to insurance claim analyses by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The message for the consumer is if they are in the market for a new car, they ought to look for cars with forward-collision warning systems and also the adaptive headlights,” said David Zuby, one of the main authors of the study. “We’re finding that these actually help drivers avoid getting in crashes.”

The crash-avoidance systems analyzed were all offered as optional equipment. The Highway Loss Data Institute compared the insurance records of the vehicles with the features to the same models without the features. Clear patterns were found in property-damage liability insurance claims, covering damage caused by the insured vehicle, and collision insurance, covering damage to the insured vehicle.

Forward-collision warning systems alert the driver if the vehicle is gaining on traffic ahead so quickly that a crash is imminent. Some of the systems are equipped with autonomous braking so that even if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning, the car will brake on its own.

“For those times when your attention strays from the driving task, if you’re about to have a crash, the system can warn you and get your attention back on the road so you can brake,” Zuby said.  “And if for some reason you’re slow to respond, it can begin braking on your behalf to take out some of the energy of the crash and make it less severe.”

Some models equipped with a forward collision-avoidance system with autonomous braking lowered property-damage liability insurance claims by 14 percent. Models with forward collision-avoidance systems but without autonomous braking also lowered claims, but not to the extent of models with the extra feature.

Adaptive headlights were also successful in lowering claims. To the surprise of the analysts, headlights that respond to a vehicle’s speed and direction of the steering wheel to help direct the lights onto the vehicle’s intended path lowered claims by 10 percent and substantially decreased injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle.

But  analyses of another safety feature were not so promising. Technology that warns drivers when it is unsafe to leave their lane is, in some cases, increasing the number of crashes.

Lane-departure warnings, which tell drivers when they are drifting out of their lane, were associated with increased collision and property-damage liability insurance claims as well as increased injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle.

Zuby said researchers have no good explanation for why the lane departure warnings increase crashes,  but there are reasons why the feature could be ineffective.

Analysts say that the technology relies on cameras to monitor lane markings and if not clear the system could be giving off false alarms, causing drivers to tune out the warnings.

“We have no idea in our data set whether or not people are using them or not using them, so if they turn them off, that could account for no effect,” Zuby said.

While the crash-avoidance analysis highlighted forward-collision avoidance, adaptive headlights and lane-departure warning, the Highway Loss Data Institute is also gathering data on other safety features including blind-spot detection, park assist and backup cameras.

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