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Do crash-avoidance systems really work?

By Barbara Marquand on October 9th, 2012

For many years, automakers have developed and added features to vehicles to keep drivers and passengers safe in car crashes.

Recently, they've been adding technology to prevent car wrecks from happening in the first place.

Car insurance data give clues to which of the new safety features work best. Here's a look at three of the systems and how well they're doing, based on insurance claim analyses by the Highway Loss Data Institute:

Forward collision avoidance

These systems warn you if the car is accelerating too fast toward the traffic ahead and is about to crash. Some also automatically apply the brakes if you don't react quickly enough. The systems, especially those that include autonomous braking, are showing some success in reducing the number of property damage liability claims, according to the institute. The number of such claims dropped 14 percent for Acura and Mercedes-Benz models equipped with the autonomous braking systems, and fell by 10 percent for Volvo vehicles.

Adaptive headlights

These headlights direct light in the direction you're traveling to help you see around curves in the dark. Property damage liability claims fell by as much as 10 percent for cars equipped with adaptive headlights, according to the institute. Injury claims fell for all but one vehicle make. The institute examined the impact of adaptive headlights on Acura, Mazda, Mercedes and Volvo vehicles.

Lane departure warning

The systems warn you if your car drifts out of the traffic lane. So far, the technology is not having much impact on the number of insurance claims. In fact, the systems are associated with slightly increased claim rates for Buick and Mercedes.

"Lane departure warning may end up saving lives down the road, but so far these particular versions aren't preventing insurance claims," Matt Moore, institute vice president, says in a press release. "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."

The institute has yet to study systems designed to prevent cars from drifting out of traffic lanes.

The institute says other systems, such as blind spot detection and park assist, aren't showing any clear effects on insurance claims yet. Systems for blind spot detection warn you if a vehicle is in your blind spot, and park-assist systems steer the car, with little help from you, into a parking spot.

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