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IIHS Reports on Emerging Safety Technologies

IIHS Reports on Emerging Safety Technologies

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
A new wave of safety technologies has entered the market, and some features have yet to prove their worth in real-world conditions. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has published a report titled "Future Vehicles" that evaluates the best-case scenario for the crashes that these new features can prevent.

The IIHS report evaluates five relatively new safety features: Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Emergency Brake Assistance, Blind Spot Detection, and Adaptive Headlights. To come to its conclusions, the IIHS identified the type of crash each feature is meant to prevent, counted real-world crashes that occurred from 2002 to 2006, and assigned relevant crash types to the corresponding safety feature.

The IIHS reports that Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning show more potential to prevent crashes and, more importantly, fatalities than the other technologies.

Below is a breakdown of each type of safety technology, the type of crash it can prevent, and the Institute's findings with regard to that technology.

Forward Collision Warning
Forward Collision Warning uses radar or laser technology to sense objects ahead. If the system detects that the vehicle is approaching the object too rapidly, it warns the driver, usually audibly. Some systems can also apply the brakes if an imminent threat of collision is detected.

According to the IIHS, more than 2.2 million frontal crashes take place each year, leading to more than 7000 fatalities. More people die in frontal crashes than any other type, and these collisions account for 40 percent of all accidents reported to police each year. Many of these crashes can be avoided with Forward Collision Warning, and the severity of others can be reduced.

The IIHS warns that Forward Collision Warning won't prevent all frontal crashes, but the technology has the potential to prevent the most crashes of the five features studied, and the second-highest total of annual fatalities.

Forward Collision Warning is available on Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models.

Lane Departure Warning
If a driver gets distracted and drifts out of his/her lane, there is the potential for a head-on or side-swipe collision with a car coming the opposite way-plus the risk of going off-road and hitting something. While these types of crashes don't happen as often as forward collisions, their fatality rates are higher. From 2002 to 2006, an average of 483,000 of these crashes and more than 10,000 resultant fatalities occurred annually. For its report, the IIHS did not consider off-road rollover accidents.

Lane Departure Warning systems aim to prevent crashes by warning drivers when they have left their lanes. These systems use cameras, usually mounted on the rearview mirror, to detect if a vehicle has left its lane. If it has and the driver has not used a turn signal, the system warns the driver by vibrating the steering wheel, sounding an alarm, or flashing a visual signal. Infiniti also offers a Lane Departure Prevention system that lightly applies the brakes on the opposite side of the vehicle to nudge the vehicle back into its lane.

This feature in many ways works the same as highway rumble strips that warn drivers when they've drifted to the side of the road and sometimes to the center line. IIHS studies have shown that rumble strips reduce head-on collisions, oncoming sideswipes, and run-off-the-road crashes by 25 to 30 percent. If Lane Departure Warning can be as effective, it can prevent more than 100,000 collisions and 2500 deaths per year.

Lane Departure Warning systems are available in Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Infiniti, and Volvo models.

Emergency Brake Assistance
Emergency Brake Assistance, known commonly as Brake Assist, applies extra brake pressure for maximum stopping power when the driver hits the brake pedal hard or suddenly. Often in these situations, the driver does not brake hard enough. That's where Brake Assist takes over to maximize braking power. This stops the vehicle earlier, possibly avoiding a crash. The systems from BMW and Volvo also move the brake pads closer to the rotors for quicker activation when the driver does hit the brake pedal, and Infiniti's system pressurizes the brakes before the driver pushes the pedal.

Like Frontal Collision Warning, Brake Assist is meant to prevent frontal crashes. Brake Assist, however, can only stop crashes that the driver has reacted to, not those that weren't noticed. According to 2002-2006 crash data, the IIHS says more than 400,000 of these crashes occur annually, including more than 3000 fatalities. The IIHS has also identified as many as 257,000 of those crashes annually, including 855 fatal ones, to be relevant to both Brake Assist and Frontal Collision Warning. There is no way to tell how many of the relevant crashes could be avoided by stopping sooner, but the ceiling of 3000 deaths is significant.

Emergency Brake Assistance is available on Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce and Volvo models. Unlike the other technologies, it is often standard equipment.

Adaptive Headlights
Adaptive Headlights pivot in the direction of travel when a driver steers around corners. By doing so, these headlights help drivers see potential hazards sooner.

The IIHS identified 150,000 crashes per year that occurred on dark or partially dark curves, including 2500 deaths therefrom. Adaptive Headlights can reduce these totals, but the IIHS warns that, with them, drivers may increase night-time speeds on curves, just as data indicates they do when roads are marked with reflector posts or other markers. Increased speeds would offset or partially offset the potential safety benefit of Adaptive Headlights.

Adaptive Headlights are offered on models from Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo and Volkswagen.

Blind Spot Detection
Blind Spot Detection systems use sensors, usually in the exterior mirrors, to detect if vehicles are in a car's blind spots. The systems warn drivers to the presence of vehicles with lights in the mirrors and some even use audible alerts.

IIHS research indicates that roughly 450,000 crashes occur per year due to drivers missing vehicles in their blind spots. An average of 428 of these crashes involve fatalities, making these the least deadly of the accident types the IIHS studied. The IIHS notes that the effectiveness of Blind Spot Detection systems can be compromised by drivers who don't use their mirrors or who grow to ignore the system due to constant alerts caused by heavy traffic. Of the safety technologies in the study, Blind Spot Detection systems seem to have the least real-world benefit, though they may still save lives.

Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo offer models with Blind Spot Detection systems.

Consumer Interest Varies
Aside from Emergency Brake Assistance, which is usually standard, each of these safety technologies comes at a price, and the customer must decide to pay it or not. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study,SM there are differing degrees of consumer interest in several emerging safety technologies, including Adaptive Headlights, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning and Collision Mitigation Systems such as Forward Collision Warning. The results of the study show that customers have the most interest in Blind Spot Detection and Adaptive Headlights, considerably less interest in Collision Mitigation Systems, and the least interest in Lane Departure Warning. The study also shows that interest drops significantly when price is considered. For more information on the study, click here.

In the final analysis, if all cars were equipped with all of these new safety features, the technologies would have the potential to prevent 3,435,000 crashes each year, including 20,777 fatalities. Those numbers are lower than the sum total of crashes each technology can prevent due to overlap.

While the Institute's recent report does not give concrete numbers on how many crashes each feature will prevent, it does provide further information that can help buyers make purchase decisions. To read the complete report, go to

More Research
Learn more about the IIHS
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