Driver-assist technology has major impact on reducing car crashes, study says

The new Volvo XC60 - Crash Test photo

New cars are chock-full of electronic driver-assist systems that are supposed to make the roads safer — but do they?

The answer is yes, says a new study, at least when it comes to lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection systems. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that these systems reduced rates of single-vehicle sideswipe and head-on crashes by 18 percent, and injuries sustained in those types of crashes by 24 percent. It also found that fatal crash rates were reduced by 86 percent.

Using a more in-depth statistical model that accounts for driver age, gender, insurance risk level, and other factors that could affect crash rates, the study found that crashes were reduced by 11 percent and injuries by 21 percent. The sample size for fatal crashes was too small to apply this more thorough statistical model to.

Comparisons to other studies indicate the rate of crashes could be lowered even further. A 2015 study of U.S. trucks found that lane-departure warning cut the rate of relevant crashes nearly in half, and a study of Volvo cars in Sweden showed a 53 percent reduction in crashes.

It’s possible that many U.S. drivers turn their lane-departure warning systems off, the IIHS noted. The systems are also reliant on a response from the driver, so tiredness or physical incapacitation can limit their effectiveness. On the other hand, cars with lane-departure warning tend to be newer, meaning they perform better in crashes, noted Autoblog. That might be a factor in the lower injury rates reported by the IIHS in its study.

The IIHS also studied the effectiveness of blind-spot detection systems, focusing on crashes where vehicles were changing lanes or merging. Looking at vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo, the IIHS found that blind-spot detection reduces crash rates by 14 percent, and injuries in those crashes by 23 percent.

Previous IIHS studies of safety tech found that front-crash prevention systems with autonomous braking cut rates of front-to-rear crashes in half, while rearview cameras prevented 1 in 6 backup crashes. As automakers pile on safety tech, independent testing is crucial to ensure that said tech provides a real safety benefit.