IIHS Says Crash Avoidance Systems Working

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), insurance data on crash avoidance systems across a broad range of manufacturers show that, for the most part, the systems are doing their job. Insurance claim analyses from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the IIHS, showed that cars equipped with some of the earliest crash avoidance systems are in fact helping to prevent crashes.

The HLDI study showed that forward crash avoidance systems, especially those that can apply the brakes for the driver, as well as adaptive headlight systems that change direction as the driver steers, had the greatest impact on crash reduction.

The HLDI examined forward collision systems offered on Acura, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo vehicles. Data showed that property damage liability (PDL) insurance claims, which cover damage caused by the insured vehicle to another vehicle, were 14% lower than the same vehicles that were not equipped with forward collision warning and autonomous braking. Volvo's autonomous braking systems reduced crashes by 10%, but the HLDI believes these statistics were affected by the fact that Volvo's forward collision and autonomous braking systems are sold along with lane departure warning and fatigue warning.

Mercedes and Volvo also offer versions of their forward collision warning systems that do not include autonomous braking, and while they appeared to lower crash rates as well, it was not to the same extent as versions with autonomous braking. The HLDI believes this is because systems like these require drivers to respond to some form of visual and audible warnings, and can't directly avoid crashes by applying the brakes itself. These systems are also not as complex. Volvo's system crash avoidance system without the auto brake function only operates at speeds over 20 mph, while the version with auto brake can work from speeds as low as 3 mph.

When looking at adaptive headlight systems, the HLDI looked at claims from Acura, Mazda, Mercedes, and Volvo. The data revealed that PDL claims were reduced by as much as 10% for vehicles with the feature. This surprised the HLDI because only about 7% of crashes reported to the police that occur from 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. involve more than one vehicle.

Surprisingly, lane departure warning systems showed no improvement, and in some cases, actually caused problems for drivers, although the HLDI has yet to determine why. Other systems, such as blind spot detection and park assist functions, have yet to show any clear effects on crash patterns.

The HDLI tested lane departure warning systems from Buick and Mercedes, and both brands were associated with increased claim rates under both collision and PDL coverage. There was also an increase in injuries sustained by occupants in the insured vehicle. Although increases were not substantial, they were enough to suggest the systems aren't reducing accidents. Volvo was the only manufacturer studied that showed lower claim frequencies than its cars without the feature. However, these numbers can also be linked to the fact that Volvo bundles the forward collision warning feature with auto brake.

To gather the information, HLDI analysts looked at how each crash avoidance system feature affected the claim frequency, and the type of insurance coverage claims like damage and/or injuries. Frequency was measured as the number of claims relative to the number of insured vehicle years, pulling data from vehicles ranging from 2000 to August of 2011, depending on when the manufacturer introduced the feature. The manufacturers supplied the HLDI with identification numbers of vehicles equipped with each feature, which allowed the HLDI to compare the insurance records for the same vehicle models that were not equipped with the feature.

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