The ads on TV look impressive.  And potential improvements in vehicle safety could eventually be significant.  But that potential won’t be realized until the technologies mature and drivers get a bit more familiar with them.

That’s the verdict from AAA's Automotive Engineering experts regarding new driver assistance technologies such as blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning systems.  Those experts recently tested a variety of such systems under real-world conditions and found them to be very promising.  On the other hand, the tests also revealed several issues that currently limit the efficacy of such systems.

Those issues included:

  • Audio, visual or haptic alerts that are insufficiently distinguishable from each other.
  • Blind-sport monitoring systems that are too slow to detect fast-moving vehicles and/or motorcycles.
  • Lane-departure warning systems that fail due to worn traffic lines, construction conditions and the lack of markings at intersections—or that can be prone to false positives.

In addition to directly reducing the efficacy of new safety technologies, these issues may also indirectly undermine their value by causing drivers to ignore or even disable them.
Also, because these technologies are relatively new, auto insurers don’t yet have the statistically significant data they need to accurately factor them into their underwriting formulas.

As competitive pressures in the auto industry drive carmakers to improve these technologies and make them available on more vehicles—and as more drivers gain first-hand experience with them over time—these issues are likely to be resolved.  Given the number of accidents caused by the types of driver errors these technologies are designed to reduce (lane departures, for example, causing an estimated 1.6 million crashes annually), that could be good news for both drivers and their insurers.

“With nearly three-quarters of 2014 vehicles offering blind-spot detection and 50 percent offering lane-departure warning as options, it's key that consumers are educated on how to get the best benefit from these systems," said John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of Automotive Engineering. "AAA's tests found that these systems are a great asset to drivers, but there is a learning curve."


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