One of the first studies into the effectiveness of advanced crash avoidance technologies in new vehicles has found some systems are proving particularly successful while others may actually be causing more accidents than they prevent.
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The survey by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the US, reveals forward collision avoidance systems and adaptive directional headlights are both proving effective in reducing the number of car crashes, yet cars equipped with lane departure warning systems have actually been involved in more crashes than those without.

HLDI found a 14 per cent reduction in the number of property damage liability (PDL) claims (those involving two or more vehicles) in Acura and Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with forward collision avoidance systems, which incorporate a visual/audible pre-collision warning and autonomous braking of the driver fails to react.

HLDI said Volvo’s autonomous braking system also reduced crashes by 10 per cent, but said the finding “wasn’t statistically significant”.

The Institute was particularly surprised by the effectiveness of adaptive headlights, which reduced the rate of PDL claims in Acura, Mazda, Mercedes and Volvo vehicles by 10 per cent. Adaptive headlights help drivers see around corners by varying their aim according to the vehicle speed, direction of the steering wheel and other factors.

In contrast to the positive results above, the HLDI study found the lane departure warning systems in Buick and Mercedes-Benz vehicles appeared to have the opposite of their intended effect. Although the increases in claim rates were deemed not statistically significant, the results suggest the systems have not been effective in reducing the rate of crashes.

HLDI vice president Matt Moore said the findings could point to problems with the current technology, which relies on cameras to track lane markings but is ineffective when the markings aren’t clearly visible.

"Lane departure warning may end up saving lives down the road, but so far these particular versions aren't preventing insurance claims," Moore said.

"It may be that drivers are getting too many false alarms, which could make them tune out the warnings or turn them off completely. Of course, that doesn't explain why the systems seem to increase claim rates, but we need to gather more data to see if that's truly happening."

The study also found blind spot detection and park assist systems have not shown a clear impact on crash patterns at this stage.

HLDI’s findings were based on claim data of vehicles produced between 2001 and 2011.

There are currently very few independent measures of the effectiveness of new advanced crash avoidance technologies available to motorists, making studies like this one particularly relevant. Euro NCAP last month announced it will begin physically testing the effectiveness of autonomous emergency braking systems in new vehicles from 2014 and will include the results in its star ratings.