woman setting safety technology options in carModern vehicles come equipped with a variety of driver-assistance technology in the form of crash-avoidance systems and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which are designed to help reduce the incidence and severity of accidents. More safety on the road is certainly a good thing, but these systems must be understood and used responsibly for the safest driving experience.

Understanding Crash-Avoidance Systems

Car manufacturers have equipped vehicles with many alarms and warning systems designed to help drivers avoid accidents. These components can include collision warning, collision avoidance or intervention, driver control assistance, and even automatic notification to the police after an accident has occurred. 

Warnings simply alert the driver when the potential for an accident is present, such as a light that comes on when a vehicle is in your car’s blind spot. Others are more active and will proactively make changes to the car’s operation to avoid a crash.

Here are a few examples of crash-avoidance warnings and interventions.

Driver Warning Systems

  • Back-up cameras and warnings
  • Forward collision warnings
  • Lane departure warning
  • Blind spot warning
  • Driver fatigue and distraction warning

Crash-avoidance or Intervention Systems

  • Automatic braking (front or rear)
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Adaptive cruise control (controls how close you get to cars in front of you)
  • Blind spot lane change prevention

Pros of Crash-Avoidance Systems

The data shows that these systems can dramatically reduce the incidence of accidents, saving thousands of lives per year. For example, forward collision warnings combined with automatic braking can reduce the rates of accidents with injuries by 56%. Warnings, interventions, and other safety systems are largely working as designed and driving a reduction in accidents and injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommends that more vehicles be equipped with these safety features and suggests drivers should educate themselves about what systems exist on their vehicles and how they work. They have been advocating for more safety systems on vehicles for more than 25 years.

However, there are some potential drawbacks and limits to these systems that drivers should understand.

Cons of Crash-Avoidance Systems

  • Cost. More safety seems like an obvious positive, but there can be some downsides to these advances. The price of new vehicles continues to rise, and all these additional features and technology can make a car more expensive.
  • Lack of understanding. Most of these new technologies require some level of driver input—setting adaptive cruise control and lane-centering options, for example—so the driver has to understand what they are doing. Thinking the car will take evasive actions for you when you haven't actually set it up properly can lead to an accident.
  • Distracted driving. As technology advances and distracted driving remains a huge danger on the road, some aspects of these systems can lull drivers into a false sense of complacency. Drivers may think that because the vehicle is supposed to warn them of imminent danger and, in some cases, auto-correct to keep the vehicle on the road, drivers may pay less attention to what they’re doing, become distracted by eating, drinking, using the radio, or operating a cellphone. 
  • Repair problems. Some data shows that after these systems undergo repairs, crash-avoidance systems can be problematic. Sometimes they must be repaired or replaced repeatedly to work properly, and properly calibrating these systems is complicated—not all auto repair shops are up to the task. Drivers may be relying on systems that aren’t working properly—or at all.

The advent and inclusion of collision-avoidance systems does not mean that a car drives itself. While robotics and automation are making strides in self-driving vehicles, completely self-driving cars are still years away. 

Humans are still responsible for accidents, even on cars equipped with many safety and crash-avoidance features, and must stay alert while driving and pay attention to the road at all times. These systems should be used to enhance and assist drivers, not relied upon to handle road safety. Relying upon warnings and collision-avoidance systems to completely prevent accidents is not safe, responsible driving. 

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