How do you react to those new technologies that either take partial control of features of the car or send warnings when the driver gets off track?
Insurance claim analyses by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) show an early crop of advanced crash avoidance technologies includes some clear success stories when it comes to preventing crashes.
Forward collision avoidance systems, particularly those that can brake autonomously, along with adaptive headlights, which shift direction as the driver steers, show the biggest crash reductions. Lane departure warning appears to hurt, rather than help, though it’s not clear why, and other systems, such as blind spot detection and park assist, aren’t showing clear effects on crash patterns yet.
“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 HLDI, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “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.”
HLDI analysts looked at how each feature affected claim frequency under a variety of insurance coverage for damage and injuries. Clear patterns were seen in claims under property damage liability (PDL) insurance, which covers damage caused by the insured vehicle to another vehicle, and collision insurance, which covers damage to the insured vehicle. The model years of the vehicles included ranged from 2000 to 2011, depending on when an automaker introduced a feature. Insurance data through August 2011 were used.
The crash avoidance systems studied were all offered as optional equipment. The automakers supplied HLDI with identification numbers of vehicles that had each feature, allowing HLDI to compare the insurance records for those vehicles with the same models without the feature.
Forward collision avoidance
Forward collision warning systems alert the driver if the vehicle is gaining on the traffic ahead of it so quickly that it is about to crash. Some of these systems are also equipped with autonomous braking, meaning the vehicle will brake on its own if the driver doesn’t respond in time.
Claims for the front-to-rear collisions that forward collision avoidance systems are meant to address are common under PDL coverage, and HLDI found the technology reduces PDL claim frequency. Claim frequency under collision coverage, which includes many of the same crashes that fall under property damage liability but also a lot of single-vehicle crashes that these systems are not designed to address, was reduced but by a smaller amount. Some reductions also were seen for injury claims.
Adaptive headlights respond to steering input to help a driver see around a curve in the dark. The headlights’ horizontal aim is adjusted based on the speed of the vehicle, direction of the steering wheel and other factors so that the lights are directed where the vehicle is heading.
HLDI looked at adaptive headlights offered by Acura, Mazda, Mercedes and Volvo. As with forward collision warning, bigger benefits showed up in PDL claims for damage to other vehicles than in collision claims for damage to the insured vehicles. PDL claims fell as much as 10 percent with adaptive headlights. That was surprising, since only about 7 percent of police-reported crashes occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and involve more than one vehicle. An even smaller percentage are multiple-vehicle, nighttime crashes occurring on a curve, where adaptive headlights would be expected to have an effect. It’s possible that other differences between the adaptive headlights and conventional ones besides steerability — for example, in brightness or range — may have played a role in reducing crashes with other vehicles.
Lane departure warning
In contrast to the better-than-expected results for adaptive headlights, lane departure warning systems from Buick and Mercedes appeared to have the opposite of their intended effect. Both were associated with increased claim rates under collision and PDL coverages and for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicles. Although the increases were not statistically significant, the results suggest these particular systems aren’t reducing overall crashes. Volvos with lane departure warning had lower claim frequencies under most coverages than Volvos without the feature, but those vehicles also had forward collision warning with auto brake, which more likely accounts for the benefits.
“Lane departure warning may end up saving lives down the road, but so far these particular versions aren’t preventing insurance claims,” Moore says. “It may be that drivers are getting too many false alarms, which could make them tune out the warnings or turn them off completely. Of course, that doesn’t explain why the systems seem to increase claim rates, but we need to gather more data to see if that’s truly happening.”