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Analysis of In-Vehicle Crash Avoidance Technology is a Mixed Bag

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The Highway Loss Data Institute’s (HLDI’s) analysis of insurance claims shows a mixed bag of results when it comes to advanced crash avoidance technologies, according to a July 3 HLDI press release. HLDI is an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). As Cheryl Jensen notes for The New York Times blog Wheels, although crash-avoidance technology was at one time only available in luxury cars, it is now found in new cars at all price points.

Percent differences in claim frequency with and without adaptive headlights

A chart from the Highway Loss Data Institute press release

Researchers analyzed collision, property damage, and injury claims for vehicles ranging from model year 2000 through model year 2011, depending on when a car maker introduced each crash-avoidance feature, Jensen reports. Although forward collision avoidance systems — especially those that can brake autonomously and those with adaptive headlights (which shift direction as the driver steers) — show the larger crash reductions, lane departure warning systems appear to hurt rather than help, the release says. Researchers do not know why that would be. Jensen’s article offers one possible reason according to David Zuby, the chief research officer at the IIHS:

An explanation posited by Mr. Zuby was that insurance claims primarily cover relatively minor crashes. Running off the road or into the path of an oncoming car, which lane departure warning is intended to prevent, would more likely result in death. That statistic, consequently, would be found in fatality data, Mr. Zuby said, which would take longer to collect.

‘The systems may be helping people avoid fatal run-off-the-road crashes, but our insurance data, because it has so many other types of crashes, may not be able to see the effect,’ he said.

The study found that blind spot detection and park assist systems are not showing clear effects on crash patterns, at least not yet. “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,” said Matt Moore, vice president of HLDI.

HDLI studied crash avoidance systems that were offered as optional equipment, and compared the insurance claims records for those vehicles with those for the same vehicle models without those same features. As the press release states, in each analysis, researchers controlled for factors that could influence claim rates, such as driver age and gender, whether or not a vehicle was kept in a garage, and the driver’s collision deductible.

The findings suggest that systems that automatically control the car are more effective for preventing accidents than those that simply warn the driver and rely on him or her to make a driving decision, according to the study:

‘Just as forward collision warning systems that include autonomous braking cut crashes more sharply than those that don’t, lane departure prevention systems that don’t rely on a driver’s response may hold more promise than the systems HLDI has looked at so far,’ says David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS. ‘The lane departure prevention systems are newer and less common than the warning systems, so we’ll have to wait for more data before we can look for a pattern there.’

Charts in the press release show data for Acura, Mercedes, and Volvo with and without auto brake technology; Acura, Mercedes, and Volvo with and without adaptive headlights; and Buick, Mercedes, and Volvo with and without lane departure warning.

Wheels quotes Zuby as saying:

…the institute did not want to try a definitive survey across all brands for its first study in the field, so it limited the analysis to the four automakers that initially expressed interest in participating: Buick, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. Other automakers have since expressed interest in participating in subsequent studies, he added.

Image by Highway Loss Data Institute, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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