New car accident avoidance technology shows promise

Mercedes-Benz E350 Mercedes-Benz USA

(MoneyWatch) New automotive technology aimed at avoiding accidents is working well with one exception, according to new research.

A study by the Highway Data Loss Institute (HDLI) -- which is funded by the insurance industry -- found that the incidence of accidents was significantly reduced when vehicles were equipped with a forward collision-avoidance system, which warns when a crash with the car ahead is imminent, and with adaptive headlights, which move with the driver's steering for better visibility around curves. Lane departure warning systems, which sounds an alarm when a car is drifting out of its lane, were not found to reduce accidents.

Can these cars really get 40 MPG?
5 used cars NOT to buy
Don't buy a used car with a dangerous defect

This new technology, which is available mostly on luxury brands, is usually sold as optional equipment. For its study, HDLI got from manufacturers the vehicle identification numbers of cars that had this equipment. Researchers then were able to compare insurance claims for those cars with claims from similar models without the new systems.

Here is a closer look at each of the three safety systems studied:

  • Forward collision avoidance: These systems sound an alarm, and sometimes activate the brakes, when a collision is imminent with the car ahead. Researchers studied the systems on Acura, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo vehicles. Insurance claims for the Mercedes and Acura systems that automatically start braking were down by 14 percent, and claims for the similarly equipped Volvo vehicles fell 10 percent. Vehicles with  warnings but no automatic braking reduced claims slightly but not significantly.
  • Adaptive headlights: These headlights move with as a driver steers so that they are pointing where the vehicle is headed. That avoids cars rounding a curve with their headlights pointing off to the side. Claims for cars with this system dropped by 10 percent based on damage to other vehicles involved in an accident. This improvement was larger than researchers had expected.
  • Lane departure warning: Originally expected to be a significant safety factor, this system sounds a warning when the car is drifting out of its lane because the driver is drowsy or for other reasons. But it did not appear to cut accident claims, and vehicles with the technology even had slightly higher claims. Researchers are not sure why. They speculated that the cameras that track the lane markers may not have worked well or that the alarms were so frequent that drivers turned the system off.

Like most new safety technology, these systems first appeared in luxury brands but are now spreading to more mainstream vehicles. For instance, the 2012 Ford Taurus offers an optional forward collision avoidance system. So the spread of such safety gear could potentially lead to fewer accidents in the long run. 

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

Comments