Can having safety features reduce your insurance premiums?

By Ryan Hurlbert on December 15th, 2010

Lane departure warning. Adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring. Adaptive braking. Self-parking. Driver alertness monitoring. Stability control. And more airbags than you can count.

Auto manufacturers are cramming more and more features into cars in the name of safety. People don't turn off their cruise control in heavy traffic, so let's put a cruise control in the car that will automatically slow down when the car catches up to the car ahead. Apparently, drivers couldn't be bothered to turn and look in the blind spot anymore, so now our cars will do that for us. And hey, if the car ahead of me stops and I'm not paying attention, my car will brake for me -- all in the name of safety.

By taking more and more responsibility for driving away from the driver, is technology really making us safer? Americans by and large are not very attentive drivers. We just don't seem to take it seriously, as though it takes no more effort than sitting on the couch.

Perhaps if the punishments for inattentive driving were stiffer, we might see more people make it a priority to pay attention behind the wheel. But, instead of making drivers more responsible for their actions, we transfer that responsibility to the car.

Will all of these new safety features provide insurance discounts? That depends on how they perform actuarially. If a new safety feature reduces the number or severity of claims, an insurance company may decide to offer a discount for vehicles that have that feature. If there is no actuarial benefit to a feature, a discount would be hard for an insurer to justify. In any case, it could take years for enough vehicles with a specific safety feature to be sold for any meaningful data collected.

For example, adaptive braking may reduce the number or severity of rear-end collisions, and thus reduce claims. If the data proves it, you may see discounts offered for adaptive braking systems.

If you want to make sure you are getting every discount your auto insurance company offers, ask about each safety feature on your car. Be sure to ask again at least once a year, just in case things have changed. Data takes time to gather and analyze, and you don't want to miss out if your company suddenly offers a discount for a car that can park itself.

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