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Do Smarter Cars Make Safer Drivers?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Car manufacturers are constantly in a competition to offer the best features, better efficiency, and buyer satisfaction. Each new model features improvements to the driving experience.

One of the more recent developments aimed at creating a safe experience is the invention of crash avoidance technology. This relatively new technology is aimed at helping drivers avoid a crash in several ways. 

Smart car improvements have positively impacted driver safety, and insurers reward drivers who are conscious of safety — embracing these features. From small apps to the major crash avoidance systems found on newer cars, drivers now have tools at their disposal that can significantly impact their safety (and car insurance rates).

What is a smart car?

A smart car is any type of car that uses technology to help drivers avoid crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists four types of smart car technologies: vehicle-based safety systems, crash warning systems, active braking technologies and pedestrian detection systems. 

These technologies help reduce standard car weak points that can lead to accidents, such as eliminating blind spots from the driver’s point of view. Smart car technologies often use a combination of cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence to alert drivers and reduce human error.

The NHTSA also discusses the possibility of future smart car technology involving interaction between cars enabled with crash detection technology to further improve safety. For example, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication could allow cars to exchange information with vehicles around them about their speed and location. This would create a 360-degree awareness of each car to help drivers understand where others around them are going and predict crashes before they happen.

Do smarter cars make safer drivers?

Overall, smart car technology has statistically been shown to make the roads safer and reduce crashes. A 2019 report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed reductions in police-reported accident and insurance claims between 7% and 78% depending on the technology. Overall, the least effective safety system was blind spot detection, while the most effective was rear automatic braking.

Data from the NHTSA predicts that safety statistics will improve even more sharply once V2V communication technology becomes widely available. The agency predicts that 615,000 crashes and 1,366 traffic deaths could have been prevented by this technology had it already been made available.

Different types of crash avoidance technology

  • Forward collision avoidance: With this system, a car’s warning systems signal the driver if they’re coming too close to a car ahead of them and are about to crash. This system has proven very advantageous at alerting drivers of potential accidents, therefore reducing overall insurance claims.
  • Adaptive headlights: These 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. Property damage liability claims fell more than 10% for drivers with adaptive headlights based on information gathered by the HLDI.
  • Lane departure warning: Using cameras, this technology detects potential collisions if a car changes lanes. It is meant to eliminate the blind spot that happens so often by recognizing lane markings. 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.

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.

Smart car insurance cost

Smart cars can be a double-edged sword when it comes to paying the insurance bill. On one hand, these technologies are statistically proven to improve car safety and can reduce overall claims. But on the other hand, smart car technology is more expensive to repair when a car is damaged in an accident. 

For this reason, drivers may see insurance higher rates for certain types of vehicles that contain advanced technologies, despite discounts from some insurers for built-in safety systems. One example showed that while a headlight on a traditional car would only cost $200 to replace, a newer adaptive headlight might cost as much as $2,000.

The good news is that rates for smart cars will probably go down over time. This will happen as technology becomes cheaper, and as drivers get more used to driving with crash avoidance assistance. Since the technology is still so new, data about how drivers will interact with emerging systems is somewhat limited.

The takeaway

  • Smart cars use technology systems like automatic braking and lane departure warnings to avoid crashes.
  • Overall, smart car technology has been shown to make the roads safer by reducing the number of crashes and insurance claims.
  • Despite a lower risk of having an accident, drivers of smart cars may end up paying more in insurance premiums as parts are significantly more expensive to replace than in traditional vehicles.

Purchasing a smart car with crash detection technology can help reduce your risk of getting into an accident, which can lower your chances of having to file a claim. But because smart cars can cost more to repair, discounts for safety features may not entirely compensate for a potentially higher premium. 

Although emerging data is promising, insurers still haven’t seen enough of a long-term reduction in cost to insure cars with advanced technologies at more affordable rates. Still, if you get a quote that is higher than expected for a new smart car, don’t be afraid to shop around for rates to see if any other insurers are willing to cut you a better deal. Ultimately, the savings associated with smart cars is a lowered risk of accident and injury.

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