Despite being able to save thousands of lives each year, many motorists are switching off their cars’ key safety systems.

CRA Motoring News

By Jim Gorzelany

A growing number of vehicles in virtually all classes and price points either come standard with or are offering a sophisticated range of driver-assist features engineered to help motorists avoid getting into crashes. These include automatic emergency braking, and blind spot and lane departure warnings, along with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems that bring vehicles a step closer to autonomous driving.

Consumer Reports analysis determined that such safety technologies could cut road deaths in half if they were to be made standard on every new vehicle. That comes to 16,800-20,500 lives saved per year. But if that’s the case, why are so many drivers disabling these important systems?

Erie Insurance recently commissioned a national survey among 500 owners of vehicles from the 2016 model year or later to determine which accident-avoidance features are most frequently disabled and why. The most common reason was that they were found to be annoying or distracting. That could well be a byproduct of either not fully trusting the system, or having to properly learn how the technology works and getting used to it.

“Ideally as features improve and drivers get more comfortable with them, using them will become second-nature the way seatbelts are today,” says Jon Bloom, Erie’s vice president of personal auto. “The payoff could be huge in terms of reducing crashes and saving lives.”

The most disabled driver-assist system could be considered more of a convenience feature than a life-saving option. Erie’s survey found that 30 percent of those whose cars are fitted with adaptive cruise control never use it. Unlike standard cruise control, which maintains a set speed on the highway, the adaptive variety assists with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a prescribed distance from the traffic ahead. Some systems can even operate in stop and go driving. In addition to being aggravating, the most common reason given for leaving it off was, “I want to control the vehicle, not have the vehicle control itself.”

Second on the most-annoying list is lane-keeping assist. This feature automatically controls a vehicle’s steering (while the driver keeps hands on the wheel) to help keep it centered within lane markers, usually while on the highway. A full 25 percent of motorists who have this feature disable it, mostly because they find wrestling with the steering wheel to be disconcerting.

Many cars these days now come with an attention monitor that determines if a motorist is fully engaged in the task of driving, and engages a visual and/or audible warning as an alert if that’s deemed not to be the case. A full 22 percent disable the system, usually because it generates too many false alarms.

Likewise, 21 percent of motorists switch off their cars’ lane departure warning systems, which issue an alert should the vehicle inadvertently touch or cross roadway lane markers, because they go off too frequently. Seventeen percent of drivers disable their vehicles’ road sign recognition feature because they don’t find it to be helpful.

One of the first, and still among the most significant driver-assist features offered, is a forward collision warning system. It monitors the road ahead and will warn the driver to apply the brakes if it determines that a crash with another vehicle or other obstruction is otherwise unavoidable. Many systems can detect pedestrians or bicyclists in the vehicle’s path, and will automatically hit the brakes at full force if the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that forward collision-warning systems help reduce front-to-rear crashes by 27 percent, and lower the rate of crashes with injuries by 20 percent. When teamed with auto-braking it can cut front-to-rear crashes by 50 percent, and prevent injuries by 56 percent. Still, 11 percent of drivers switch off the warnings because they’re found to be grating or they go off too frequently.

A blind spot monitor is also considered a beneficial accident-avoidance feature. It uses sensors to detect and alert the driver to the presence of other vehicles to the side and rear that he or she may not be able to see in the side mirror. Some advanced systems can intervene via steering or braking input to help keep the vehicle in its lane. The IIHS says it can reduce the occurrence of lane-change collisions by 14 percent, and cut the number of such collisions with injuries by 23 percent. At that, nine percent of drivers turn it off because they don’t trust it, among other reasons. The same percentage applies to rear cross-traffic alert, which warns the driver if another car is approaching while he or she is backing out of a garage or parking space.

Finally, and this one is difficult to fathom, six percent of all drivers find their vehicles’ backup camera, which displays what’s immediately to the rear while the car is in reverse, to be distrustful and irritating. Aside from making parallel parking easier, the IIHS says such cameras can reduce backup crashes by 17 percent.

When queried as to whether they’d have such features in their next vehicles, if given the choice, 35 percent of those polled would skip having adaptive cruise control. Despite having higher rates of driver annoyance, the rest of the features on the list only registered single digits in this regard.

Let’s be careful out there, okay?

Credit to Forbes.