auto Insurance Article

Do Smarter Cars Make Safer Drivers?

Whether on a racetrack or not, cars have always been in a race to offer the best features, better efficiency, and buyer satisfaction. Each new model brings features meant to improve the driving experience.

One of the more recent developments aimed at creating a safe experience is the invention of crash avoidance technology. Some new cars are equipped with technology that is supposed to help a driver avoid a crash in a number of ways. While these improvements have been hailed by many, certain groups are questioning just how safe you are when using crash avoidance technology. Similarly, though, there are others singing praises of crash avoidance technology, and insurers that are happy to say they’ve been paying out less in relevant claim cases.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently conducted a study comparing auto insurance claims that involved different types of crash avoidance technology. From their findings, they found lane departure warning systems have actually led to increased claims, but others are having a better impact.

Matt Moore, vice president of Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS affiliate) commented on which systems fared better in a press release.

“As more automakers offer advanced technologies on their vehicles, insurance data provide an early glimpse of how these features perform in the real world. So far, forward collision technology is reducing claims, particularly for damage to other vehicles, and adaptive headlights are having an even bigger impact than what we had expected.”

If you are looking into buying a new car, this may be one of the areas where you have to draw the line at need versus want. Keep your driving habits, your insurance policy, and your budget in mind. As more studies are conducted, insurance companies might begin to offer lower premiums based on available different technologies their policyholders use. Additionally, if such technologies became mainstream and do end up resulting in fewer claims and accidents, everyone’s insurance premiums will become lower since insurers would need far less resources to cover the claims.

It’s becoming very apparent that given the ways technology has changed the driving habits and knowledge of consumers, insurers just don’t see excuses anymore for anyone to be uninformed, underinsured, and unsafe. From small apps to the larger, new technology found on newer models, consumers have something at their disposal that drivers in the past never even dreamed of having. Considering what this technology does and how dangerous the roads can be, access to such technology is truly something to be grateful for overall, despite the fact that some may still have some kinks.

Different Types of Crash Avoidance Technology

Forward Collision Avoidance

With this system, a car’s warning systems are built to signal to a driver if they’re coming too close to a car ahead of them and are about to crash. You might think if someone is driving, they should see the car in front of them. However, anyone who has had a fender bender knows if you take your eyes off the road for a second, and the person in front of you slams on their brakes, you can easily end up in their backseat. Since not everyone abides by the “three second following rule,” this system has actually proven very advantageous at alerting drivers of potential accidents, therefore reducing claims overall. Some systems even include automatic braking, which will trigger the car to brake automatically if the driver doesn’t respond in enough time.

Adaptive Headlights

You may have thought your old headlights were doing a great job. They were bright and lit up the night, never failing to be a spotlight for everyone’s surprise guest Bambi, but could they see around corners?

Adaptive headlights are equipped with sensors that recognize when you make a movement with the steering wheel to go around a curve. The beam of light is then adjusted in accordance with your speed and direction to make sure that the light shines in the direction you are headed, not just straight forward. It seems like a simple concept, but it’s one that has had major impact. Property damage liability claims fell more than 10% for drivers with adaptive headlights based on information gathered by the HLDI.

“All four adaptive headlight systems we looked at show benefits for most insurance coverages, and many of these estimated reductions are statistically significant,” said Moore. “These lights appear to help in more situations than we anticipated, though we don’t yet know why.”

In the case of avoiding an accident though, it’s not the why that matters as much as the how.

Lane Departure Warning

This technology is based on the use of cameras to detect potential collisions if a car changes lanes. It is meant to eliminate the blind spot that happens so often by recognizing lane markings. This blind spot that occurs when driving can vary in size, especially with larger vehicles, but this system needs some improvement before insurance companies will see the value.

Currently, if lane markings are not always clearly painted, the warning system may not go off as needed. On the other hand, if someone gets slightly too close to the shoulder of the road, the system may go off even though there is little chance of a collision.

Departure warning systems have actually been associated with increased claim rates under individual’s collision and property damage liability policies. Because of false warnings, drivers may be ignoring the times when the system is alerting them to a real danger, essentially leading to some unfortunate cases of the boy — or rather the car technology — that cried wolf.

Moore talked briefly about this technology.

“Lane departure warning may end up saving lives down the road, but so far these particular versions aren’t preventing insurance claims,” Moore said. “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.”

How Crash Avoidance Technology Can Help Your Insurance

As cars perform better on these various tests, the results will hold more heft in insurance company’s eyes. Also, as tests become more advanced, they will provide a better standard for consumers shopping for new cars. You just have to be prepared to pay some extra costs for the extra safety net. Sometimes these systems can add up to $4K or more on the final tag price. If the results remain even slightly similar to what they are in their genesis stage, it could be worth it.

It’s already known that driving a safe car will help you achieve lower insurance rates. For example, many auto insurers will give discounts anywhere from 3% to 7% just for having passenger side airbags and anti-lock brakes. Such safety features may seem vintage now when compared to the newest auto safety technology, but nonetheless, they still help save lives and prevent accidents. If insurers are still giving discounts in 2013 for safety features like anti-lock brakes, imagine the discounts drivers will be seeing in 10 years when more vehicles with such safety technology are on the road. Better yet, it’s hard to put a dollar on the benefits of such technology if it works. We may not be flying around in spaceships as depicted by past cartoonists, but we’re certainly one step closer to giant technological breakthroughs when it comes to cars and driving.

Of course, such features could “enable” drivers to have poor driving habits. New technology like this is fantastic, but don’t completely rely on this technology to make you a better driver. You still have to remain aware of road conditions and those surrounding you. This is especially true since there will still be quite a few years before the average vehicle on the road has such safety features. Older cars without the technology will get weeded out, and auto manufacturers will figure out how to cheaply and efficiently mass install such safety features on the majority of new vehicles. As those cars take to the road, there will be a period of time where the new and old meet in the middle and co-exist, making it important to depend on yourself for safety as a driver, considering new safety features as a “perk” that aids you in being the ultimate safe driver. If drivers crack down on their own driving habits, become safer drivers, and also have access to such safety bonuses, policyholders will have one of the best combinations ever to unlocking cheaper premiums. Now if the IIHS and auto manufacturers could just work on the over-population of deer.

Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.

If you want to find out if the model you’re interested in has such safety features, visit IIHS’s vehicle safety technology tool here.