Screen shot from Subaru's EyeSight video

Screen shot from Subaru’s EyeSight video.

After conducting front crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded its highest rating — superior — to the Cadillac ATS sedan and SRX SUV, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback wagon, and Volvo S60 sedan and XC60 SUV, when those cars are equipped with optional autobrake and forward collision warning systems, according to an IIHS press release.

Of these seven cars whose systems rate “superior,” Subaru’s EyeSight performed the very best, IIHS reports. EyeSight helped the Legacy and Outback models avoid hitting the test target at 12 and 25 mph speeds. By contrast, most other systems in the Superior category prevented the 12 mph collision. The next best after EyeSight was Cadillac’s Automatic Collision Preparation.

IIHS issued its ratings after testing 74 2013-2014 moderately priced and luxury midsize vehicles. The test is a new program that rates front crash performance systems to help consumers decide which features to consider when buying new cars, and to encourage automakers to speed up their adoption of the technology.

As Cheryl Jensen writes for The New York Times blog Wheels, until now, consumers had to take the word of automakers as to how effective such systems are. She notes that IIHS is the first group to rate these systems based on real-world track testing, using a protocol similar to one the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro N.C.A.P.) developed.

The IIHS ratings go beyond typical crash test standards, Jensen writes. She adds that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is conducting its own research into how effective such systems are in preventing accidents, and how to encourage automakers to add such systems in a more timely manner.

Frontal crash avoidance systems are designed to prevent a distracted driver from rear-ending the vehicle in front of theirs, Jensen notes. There are several such systems in some newer cars. These systems typically scan the road using radar or cameras, and a computer calculates the rate of speed at which the distance between a vehicle and the one in front is getting smaller.

If the distance decreases too quickly, Jensen writes, those systems named autonomous or automatic braking systems apply the brakes to either slow down or stop the rear vehicle to prevent it from crashing into the one in front. When and how the brakes are applied varies by manufacturer, Jensen writes.

Other auto technology, called forward collision warning systems, sounds an audible alert to warn a driver if the car’s sensors detect an impending crash into the vehicle in front. “In general, they do not slow or stop the vehicle, although some systems come with automated braking,” Jensen writes.

IIHS gave “superior” ratings to those vehicles with automatic braking that were able to avoid a crash or reduce speeds by 10 miles per hour (mph) or more in both tests. To get an “advanced” rating (one notch down from “superior”), vehicles had to have autobrake and avoid a crash, or reduce speeds by 5 mph or more in one of the two tests. Vehicles with autobrake received credit for having a forward collision warning system that met NHTSA’s performance criteria, Jensen writes.

IIHS writes:

Six models earn an advanced rating when equipped with autobrake and forward collision warning. These include the 2014 Acura MDX SUV, Audi A4 sedan and Q5 SUV, 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, Lexus ES sedan and the 2014 Mazda 6 sedan. In addition, the Volvo S60 and XC60 earn an advanced rating when they aren’t equipped with an option called Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection. The S60 and XC60 are the only models in the new test program with standard autobrake. Called City Safety, the system brakes to avoid a front-to-rear crash in certain low-speed conditions without warning the driver before it takes action.

Vehicles received a “basic” rating (the third tier down) if they had forward collision warning but no autobraking system. Zuby said that even a forward collision warning system (FCW) alone can help drivers to avoid crashes. FCW systems are more widely available than autobrake systems, IIHS writes. Zuby said front crash prevention systems can add a thousand dollars or more to the cost of a new car. “Our new ratings let consumers know which systems offer the most promise for the extra expense,” he added.

Of the vehicles tested, 25 received a “basic” rating. Three of those available with forward collision warning (the 2014 Acura MDX and the Cadillac ATS and SRX) earn higher ratings when they are equipped with autobrake, IIHS writes. Thirty-six models either do not offer a front crash prevention system or have one that does not meet NHTSA or IIHS criteria, IIHS writes.

If a consumer can afford it, the most effective system is an autobraking one:

‘The point of autobrake systems is to help inattentive drivers avoid rear-ending another car,’ Zuby explains. ‘It’s clear that the ability to automatically brake for both stopped and moving vehicles prevents the most crashes.’ […]

‘We want to help get the most effective systems in as many vehicles as soon as possible. That means a speed mitigation system like Subaru’s EyeSight that can prevent crashes at low and moderate speeds,’ Zuby says.

Here is a video demonstrating EyeSight:

Embed this infographic:
Embed this image: