IIHS auto safety study: Lane-departure, blind-spot warning could save thousands of lives

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Technologies that warn motorists when they’re risking a collision could save thousands of lives if widely adopted, according to two new studies.

Lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection systems that prevent crashes could help reduce the one in four fatal crashes that are blamed on lane drifting, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

IIHS concluded that systems that warn drivers when they’re drifting out of their lane reduce injury crashes by 21% and total collisions by 11%. The technology could have prevented nearly 85,000 crashes and 55,000 injuries in 2015 if it had been installed on all vehicles at the time, IIHS calculated.

“This is one of the collision-avoidance technologies we had the highest hopes for,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research.

But Cicchino said drivers “frequently” deactivate lane-departure warning because they often find its audible alerts or seat-buzzing jolts to be annoying.

“There needs to be a lot more education around the virtues of a lot of these advanced technologies,” Autotrader.com analyst Michelle Krebs said.

Similarly, IIHS found that blind-spot detection systems cut the likelihood of lane-change crash injuries by 23% and lane-change crashes by 14%.

Blind-spot detection is among the most popular safety features among consumers, Krebs said. The systems typically activate a light in a side mirror when another vehicle enters the car’s blind spot.

“Drivers should know this technology is something that can really help,” Cicchino said.

Despite the potential benefits, only 6% of new vehicles in the 2017 model-year came with lane-departure warning as standard technology, while blind-spot detection was standard on only 9%. Lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring were optional technology on 57% of new models.

That means most drivers have to pay more to upgrade to the new systems.

“Most of these kinds of technologies started out being optional equipment on the highest trim level on the most luxury vehicles. It’s starting to filter down more but it still hasn’t filtered down all the way,” Cicchino said.

Wade Newton, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents auto companies in Washington, said “automakers have continued to lead-the-way in bringing new, life-saving technologies to market.”

“While the industry is proud of these innovations, and eager to see customers embrace these advancements, it’s important that consumers be able to decide how best to spend their safety dollars on these technologies,” Newton said in an email. “Determining which features are right for their families is a decision best left for consumers.”

Consumers say they want safety systems as an option, even if they don’t always use the systems. Some 41% said they are seeking lane-departure warning or assistance in their next vehicle, according to AAA.