If you bought a new car recently, there’s a good chance that it came with some kind of land departure warning. In theory, this technology can keep an eye on the road even when you get distracted, helping make sure you don’t drift off the pavement or into another car. But is there any evidence that these systems actually make the roads safer? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the answer is yes.
The IIHS recently released the results of a study that looked into the effectiveness of lane departure warning systems. It looked at cars made by General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, and Volvo that offered lane departure warning as an option. Looking at crash data gathered between 2009 and 2015, researchers checked vehicle identification numbers to see which cars were equipped with lane departure warning and which ones weren’t.
After attempting to control for driver age, gender, insurance risk level, researchers found that having lane departure warning reduced crashes by 11 percent. Crashes with injuries were reduced by 21 percent. There weren’t enough fatal crashes to control for demographics, but using a simpler method, the researchers found that lane departure warning reduced fatal crashes by 86 percent. Based on these results, the IIHS concludes that equipping all cars with lane departure warning would have prevented approximately 85,000 crashes and more than 55,000 injuries in 2015 alone.
“This is the first evidence that lane departure warning is working to prevent crashes of passenger vehicles on U.S. roads,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research, in a release. “Given the large number of fatal crashes that involve unintentional lane departures, technology aimed at preventing them has the potential to save a lot of lives.”
A separate study used the same method to look at how effective blind spot monitoring systems are at preventing wrecks while drivers change lanes or merge with traffic. The results showed that lane-change crashes dropped 14 percent, and lane-change crashes with injuries dropped 23 percent.
“Blind spot detection systems work by providing additional information to the driver. It’s still up to the driver to pay attention to that information and use it to make decisions,” said Cicchino. “That said, if every passenger vehicle on the road were equipped with blind spot detection as effective as the systems we studied, about 50,000 police-reported crashes a year could be prevented.”
One reason these results aren’t more impressive is that a lot of drivers turn these systems off, especially lane departure warning, the IIHS concluded in a separate study.
“Depending on the way you drive, lane departure alerts can go off fairly frequently in the course of regular driving even when there is no imminent danger,” said Ian Reagan, an IIHS senior research scientist and lead author of that study. “Systems that beep seem to annoy people more than systems that warn the driver with vibrations of the seat or steering wheel.”
So if you turned off the lane departure warning on your car, you’re not alone. But if automakers could find a way to make them more accurate and less annoying, it looks like the roads would be even safer.
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