Do Automatic Braking Systems Save Lives?

These days, many cars can stop on their own — but should they? Find out if automatic braking systems are really making a dent in car accident claims.

automatic braking

Braking? On your own? That’s so 2012. Yes, in this brave new driving age we call 2013, more and more carmakers want their rides to be able to brake for you — in an emergency, that is.

Crazy as it seems, autonomous braking (which used to be a fancy way to describe running out of gas) is now a pretty common car safety feature. In fact, of the vehicles coming out this year, a meaty 12 percent include accident avoidance technology.

Of course, with all automatic braking technology, the main question isn’t about popularity, but effectiveness. So let’s figure out exactly how automatic braking works and what the experts have to say about its ability to improve driver safety.

The science behind automatic braking

From fiddling with the radio to just plain daydreaming, there are tons of reasons you might briefly lose focus in traffic and risk rear-ending the car in front of you. And that’s exactly where autonomous braking comes into play. Automatic braking systems (like Volvo’s City Safety) use infrared sensors usually built into the windshield to track your position amid other vehicles. If you start approaching another car too quickly, the system taps on the brakes for you, either slowing you down or bringing you to an all-out stop.

IIHS finds reduced claims in autobraking cars

While there’s plenty of debate and ambiguity surrounding forward collision avoidance technology, autonomous braking seems to be one example of it that’s making headway. In a recent study, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) took an in-depth look at Volvo’s City Safety feature and revealed some favorable results.

When compared to SUVs that didn’t have collision avoidance technology, Volvo’s XC60 SUVs (equipped with City Safety) had:

  • 33 percent fewer bodily injury claims
  • 15 percent fewer property damage claims
  • 20 percent fewer collision claims

And for Volvo’s S60 midsize sedans, City Safety resulted in claims reductions of:

  • 18 percent for bodily injury
  • 16 percent for property damage
  • 9 percent for collision

Possible issues with automatic braking

While the IIHS findings seem like cause for celebration, there are some important things to keep in mind. For one, most of these independent braking systems are designed for moderate-to-low speeds. City Safety, for example, can only activate your brakes if you’re going 31 mph or slower — it’s meant as a backup in low-speed emergencies, not as a cure-all for actively neglectful or risky driving. This distinction is one that could (I fear) get lost on some motorists.

Furthermore, we can’t pretend that data on one carmaker’s forward collision avoidance system speaks to the effectiveness of other systems. Even though preliminary studies on similar technology from Acura and Mercedes-Benz have also yielded positive results, there is still much more info to be gathered before we start drawing cut-and-dry conclusions. So far, automatic braking is very promising.

Other collision avoidance features that impact driver safety

Aside from automatic braking systems, other crash avoidance technology merits attention, for good and bad reasons:

Forward collision warnings

Included in 29 percent of 2013 cars, forward collision warnings alert drivers (usually with loud beeps) to cars they may be approaching too quickly. Cars equipped with this technology have seen reduced accident claims, but to a lesser extent than cars with automatic braking.

Adaptive headlights

Basically, the aim of these lights can bend and redirect to help you see when taking sharp curves. In cases studied, they lowered property damage claims by roughly 10 percent — impressive, considering most car accidents happen during the day.

Lane departure warnings

This feature, which alerts drivers when they’re veering out of their lane, is one of the few crash avoidance inventions that hasn’t had much success. In fact, it’s been linked to increases in accident claims and driver injuries in Buick and Mercedes models. Part of this may have to do with false warnings, which cause drivers to eventually just tune out the system altogether.

Related links

See which cars were rated most crash-proof by the IIHS.

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3 Responses to “Do Automatic Braking Systems Save Lives?”

  1. Gary Aker
    May 13, 2013 #

    Esurance is # 1

  2. t
    October 1, 2014 #

    I'm worried about the owners of vehicles that emergency break, and they become used to it stopping for them. Now the system either fails, or they borrow/rent a car without it. Well now there grill is in my trunk… I think for that reason alone insurance companies should charge more to insure motorists who have 1 or more cars with autonomous breaking.

  3. t
    October 1, 2014 #

    Another concern with the lane departure, backup sensors, alertness detectors etc, is people that cannot hear the tones those warning systems produce. You don't have to be old to loose high pitch tone range of hearing, but they are a prime example of whom I'm speaking of. I was in a parking lot with 90 degree parking spaces on both sides of the 2 way drive lane, with multiple peds walking too/from their cars or the store, and I was ensuring the ones on my right or left went going to cross in front of me without looking. So the guy to the left of my drivers door in his newer suv WITH BACKUP SENSORS starts backing out of his parking spot while I'm directly behind him, about 5-7 feet away. He didn't stop the 5-6 times I hit my horn tell I finally just laid on the horn. He stopped just in time. I could have literally put my forearm out the window and smack his rear windscreen. About 5 inches from his bumper to my door. Keep in mind I was in the center of the 2 way drive lane. He didn't hear his backup sensors screaming at him, he couldn't hear my horn, he wasn't looking in his mirror as my back door, and rear quarter panel should have been in plain view from his drivers side mirror. If the peds on the left side of that would have been 20 seconds quicker, or 20 seconds slower (depending on if they were going into or out of the store) they would have been run over no questions asked.

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