Crash Avoidance Tech Reduces Accidents
In the third and most recent testing round of frontal crash prevention systems by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 14 of 19 vehicles earned the highest rating of Superior and five earned an Advanced rating. Autonomous braking and adaptive headlights yield biggest benefits.
Frontal crash avoidance systems use radar or camera systems to scan the road ahead while a computer calculates the closing rate between the vehicle with the system and the one in front. If the distance closes too quickly, automatic braking systems apply the brakes to either slow or completely stop a vehicle in an attempt to avoid the rear-end collision or lessen its impact.
Other safety technology, called forward collision warning systems, give a visual or audible alert to warn drivers of an impending crash. Generally they do not slow or stop the vehicle, although some come with automatic braking.
Since 2013, the IIHS has been evaluating and rating the performance of such systems in on-the-track crash tests that measure their stopping power. These tests represent an effort to go beyond crash testing to evaluate systems designed to prevent some crashes.
The ratings offer an independent assessment of systems that can be costly and differ greatly in performance. An Advanced or Superior rating means the vehicles prevented crashes at 12 or 25 mph, or at least reduced speeds enough to significantly mitigate the impact.
The 14 models rated as Superior were the 2016 Acura ILX, MDX, RDX and RLX; 2016 BMW X3; 2015 Chrysler 300 and its twin, the 2015 Dodge Charger; 2015 Mercedes C-Class models, CLA models, and E-Class; and the 2016 Mazda 6 and CX-5.
The five models rated as Advanced were the 2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf Sportswagen, Jetta, and 2015 Volkswagen Touareg; and the 2016 BMW X3.
The X3 earned the Superior rating when equipped with a camera-and-radar-based system; it earned the next highest Advanced rating when equipped with a camera-only system called City Braking Function.
In 2013, in the first series of testing, only seven out of 74 vehicles were rated Superior, six were rated Advanced, 25 were rated Basic, and 36 either had no system or had one that didn't meet IIHS criteria.
The decision to perform the testing and ratings grew out of insurance claims data provided by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an IIHS affiliate, which showed forward collision warning systems alone reduced collisions with other vehicles by about 7 percent and by 14 percent when automatic braking was added. Its more recent research shows that automatic emergency braking technology can reduce injury claims by as much as 35 percent.
Half of all 2015-model-year vehicles are now available with some type of frontal crash prevention system and nearly a quarter of those are available with automatic braking systems, according to HLDI. The key word is "available," which means most automakers offer the systems as options, though consumers who may not understand the safety benefits won't necessarily choose to pay more for them.
However, in a recent development, a group of major automakers has made a voluntary commitment to make automatic emergency braking a standard feature on all new vehicles without the federal government requiring it by law.
The companies -- Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota (including Lexus and Scion), Volkswagen, and Volvo -- represented 57 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2014. A time frame for implementation has yet to be announced.
Cheryl began writing about the auto industry in 1996. Her reports have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She has covered rallies in South America, Australia, the 1992 Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid, and in 1996 was the first American woman to finish the Dakar Rally. She has a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cheryl resides in New Hampshire.