New technologies can help prevent car accidents

Each year, automobile manufacturers introduce new technologies designed to help prevent serious car accidents and save lives. While many of these new technologies show promise, not all of them are as successful as manufacturers would like. According to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, several new technologies do appear to offer significant safety benefits.

Researchers from the HLDI examined crash data and accident rates among cars with and without three new technologies:

· Forward collision avoidance systems with autonomous braking: cars with this technology use forward facing radar to detect when an obstacle is ahead and automatically apply the brakes when a collision is near.

· Lane departure systems: cars with these systems use cameras to detect when the vehicle has left its lane without the driver using his turn signal.

· Adaptive headlights: these headlights turn with the steering wheel to provide more light as a vehicle turns a corner.

Researchers determined that forward collision avoidance systems offered the greatest benefit to drivers. For example, property damage liability claims dropped 14 percent for owners of Mercedes Benz models with crash avoidance systems. The use of these systems also appeared to reduce injury and collision claims.

Adaptive headlights, which were first developed by manufacturers in the early 1920s, offered the second greatest benefit. The incidence of property damage claims was 10 percent lower for cars with these systems compared to those without them. This finding was particularly surprising because only seven percent of car accidents in the U.S. occur at night.

Also surprising was the ineffectiveness of lane departure systems. Property damage claims were, in fact, slightly higher for cars with these systems. The reason for this remains unclear, but researchers suggest that many drivers find the lane departure signals to be a distraction and turn them off.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun evaluating these technologies and lists new car models with collision avoidance systems on its website.

Of course, in many cases, the development of new safety technology is as much about selling cars as it is saving lives. Efforts to determine which technologies actually work, however, can benefit everyone and can make our roadways safer. Indeed, many safety issues – such as distracted driving – have proven difficult to address, despite legislation and public awareness campaigns. New technologies, particularly those designed to improve driver awareness, may be the key to developing an effective solution.

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