Crash Avoidance Technology: Embrace With Caution

As car makers introduce new vehicle crash avoidance technologies, questions are beginning to surface about whether the latest options can and should be embraced by drivers.

A study conducted earlier this year confirmed that some of the newest crash avoidance technologies may not improve safety at all.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported on its analysis of insurance claims involving crash avoidance technologies. Adaptive headlights and forward collision avoidance systems demonstrated the most crash reductions, the IIHS reported.

“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 Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate. “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.”

In contrast, IIHS found that lane departure warning systems are associated with increased claims and the benefits of blind spot detection and park assist systems could not be discerned.

Besides the lack of statistical evidence to support some of the new technology options, there are other factors that may stall their use. One is cost – as much as an additional $4,000 for some of the features.

Adoption of the safety features could also be hampered if there is a rise in product defect litigation. Just this year, Honda dodged a product liability class action bullet when a California appeals court dismissed a case involving a car in its luxury line, the Acura RL. The case involved a collision mitigation braking system designed to warn drivers of potential accidents by tightening seatbelts and braking automatically. The class of about 20,000 plaintiffs alleged the system in models years 2005-2008 doesn’t work in inclement weather or is too slow to deploy. The judge determined California law couldn’t apply to the plaintiffs’ actions because the class resided across the country.

Another concern, according to a National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) memo sent to the National Highway Transportation Institute, is driver dependency on crash avoidance systems, such that greater risks are taken.

“…Advance vehicle technologies may actually contribute to and enable more distraction among drivers that occurs today as complacency with the technology becomes commonplace,” the NASEMSO memo stated.

While there is the risk of technology dependency, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute conducted a study of vehicle safety features and found that respondents feel the benefits of connected vehicle technology – saving lives and preventing accidents – outweighed the drawbacks of dependency, complacency or over-reliance.

Despite the high cost, potential for product liability litigation and over-reliance, one industry expert believes crash avoidance technology works.

“While some results indicate the need for further investigation, it’s clear that certain systems, such as those that help drivers avoid collisions with the vehicle in front or better illuminate the road ahead, can play a role in making roads safer for everyone,” said David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS.