Can Safe Driving Technologies Help Prevent a Crash?

Research shows that most motor vehicle collisions are tied to human error. In Virginia, the leading causes of traffic crashes in 2016 and 2017 were alcohol, speeding, and distracted driving.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost one-third of the traffic-related fatalities in Virginia (220 crashes) specifically involved alcohol-impaired driving.

Virginia’s statistics for 2016 and 2017 are included in the tables below:

In recent years, government, industry and other interest groups have responded to these statistics by encouraging and promoting the development of safe driving technologies in an effort to reduce the number of traffic-related collisions and fatalities, and to reduce the severity of injuries caused by traffic crashes.

Auto manufacturers are making safe driving technologies increasingly available on passenger vehicles and many of those technologies are likely to become standard.  Every year, more vehicles on roadways in Virginia and throughout the country are equipped with safe driving technologies – with good reason.  Recent studies have shown that newer model vehicles are safer than older model vehicles, and that occupants of newer model vehicles are less likely to be severely injured or killed than occupants of older model vehicles.

There are two types of driver assistance technologies on the market today.  Some technologies are able to take control of the vehicle and react to specific situations.  In the event that the driver fails to react to a particular hazard (for example, if the driver fails to brake), this technology steps in and takes corrective action.  Other technologies are warning systems that operate like an extra set of eyes to help alert drivers to potential dangers.  This helps the driver react in time to avoid harm to themselves, their vehicle, other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Types of Safe Driving Technologies

There is a wide variety of safe driving technologies on the market today.  Technologies that are designed to prevent or reduce the severity of motor vehicle crashes include:

Assistance with Backing Up and Parking

  • Rear Automatic Braking. Takes control of the vehicle and applies the vehicle’s brakes to prevent a rear collision when backing up.
  • Backup Camera. Provides a clear view directly behind the vehicle.  Some backup cameras have different views (straight back, angled or straight down), as well as guide lines that help the driver see the path of their vehicle, and whether they are projected to hit anything.
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Warns of a potential rear collision that may be outside the view of the backup camera.  The system utilizes flashing lights on the dashboard and/or an audible alarm.  When the Rear Cross Traffic Alert is activated, the backup camera is likely in use.

Maintaining Safe Distance

  • Traffic Jam Assist. Automatically accelerates and applies the brakes in the vehicle along with the flow of traffic and keeps the vehicle between lane markings.
  • Highway Pilot. Maintains the vehicle’s lane position and a determined following distance from the vehicle in front of it by automatically accelerating and braking as needed.  Must be activated by the driver before each use.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control. Automatically adjusts the vehicle’s speed to maintain a set following distance from the vehicle in front.  The driver can program their desired following distance in the settings of the vehicle.  Must be activated by the driver before each use. 

Preventing Forward Collisions

  • Forward Collison Warning. Detects and warns of a potential forward collision.  The system might utilize flashing lights on the dashboard, an audible alarm, or display the word “BRAKE” in large flashing letters on the dashboard and/or console.

At lower speeds, such as while parking, the system might display an image of the vehicle on the dashboard and indicate the distance to the approaching object with flashing lights that change color (from white or yellow to red) and speed (slower and then faster) as the vehicle gets closer to the object in front of it.  The display on the dashboard might also indicate which part of the vehicle is approaching impact (left-front, center, right-front).

  • Automatic Emergency Braking. Takes control of the vehicle and applies the brakes for the driver if a forward collision with another vehicle is imminent.  While this is happening, the Forward Collision Warning system is likely engaged.
  • Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking. Detects, warns and applies the brakes for the driver if a person is about to cross in front of the vehicle.

Navigating Lanes Safely

  • Lane Departure Warning. Detects and warns that the vehicle is drifting over the lane markings.  The system utilizes flashing lights, an audible alarm, and/or a vibrating steering wheel or driver’s seat, to indicate that the vehicle is drifting out of its lane.  The system might also depict an image of the vehicle on the console that shows whether the vehicle is drifting to the left or right of the lane markings.

If the driver attempts to change lanes without using a turn signal, the system might use an audible alarm and/or flashing lights to warn the driver that they are departing from their lane.  The system will not activate (i.e., no audible alarm or flashing lights) if the driver uses their turn signal, because the system knows that the driver is making an intentional maneuver.

The driver can customize the Lane Departure Warning system in Settings.  For example, the driver might elect to turn off the audible alarm.

  • Lane Keeping Assist. Takes control of the vehicle and automatically steers the vehicle back into its lane if the driver drifts over lane markings.  While this is happening, the Lane Departure Warning System is likely engaged.
  • Blind Spot Detection. Warns of the presence of a vehicle in the driver’s blind spot.  The system utilizes a light on the left door (in Acura vehicles) or left rear view mirror when another vehicle moves into the driver’s blind spot on the left or on the right side if a vehicle moves into the driver’s blind spot on the right.
  • Lane Centering Assist. Provides continual steering to keep the vehicle centered in its lane.  Must be activated by the driver before each use.

Voice controls and Hands-Free Technology

  • Voice controls. Allow the driver to navigate to their destination, dial a contact in the address book, take a call, and use their phone in hands-free mode.  Apple Car Play has additional functionality that allows the driver to send and receive text messages, use GPS, and play music.  Must be activated by the driver before each use.

How Safe Driving Technologies Can Prevent or Reduce the Severity of Motor Vehicle Collisions

Motor vehicle collisions can happen when a driver is unable to perceive danger in time to react and take evasive action.  Regardless of whether a driver is speeding, distracted, intoxicated, drowsy, or just inattentive, the ability to perceive and react to danger is critically important when driving.

Practically speaking, many of the motor vehicle crashes that result in injuries to our clients are caused by drivers who, at the time of the crash, made errors in:

  • failing to keep a proper lookout
  • following too closely (rear-end collisions accounted for 13.7 percent of all traffic crashes in 2017)
  • changing lanes and failure to heed lane markings (31 percent of all traffic crashes in 2017)
  • overtaking and passing other vehicles (visibility and clearance, accounting for 1,322 traffic crashes in 2016), and
  • failing to use a signal when turning. 

Safe driving technologies are designed to reduce the frequency with which these common causes of crashes occur by calling the driver’s attention to the hazard.  Common types of warning systems include flashing lights, audible alarms, steering wheel vibrations, or the appearance of warnings in the dashboard or console.  If the driver fails to heed the warnings, other safe driving technologies step in and take control of the vehicle in order to prevent the collision from happening, or to reduce the vehicle’s speed in the moments before impact, in order to reduce the severity of the collision.  Even if the vehicle cannot prevent the collision, studies have shown that slowing the vehicle down – even just a few miles per hour – can dramatically affect whether individuals are injured, and to what degree.

The Table below summarizes safe driving technologies that are currently on the market and the types of collisions that they are designed to prevent:


Purchasing a Vehicle with Safe Driving Technology

 Purchasing a vehicle can be expensive, and although safe driving technologies are readily available, often they do not come standard with the vehicle.  This means that in order to equip the vehicle with safe driving technology, the purchaser has to buy additional “safety packages,” which add to the cost of the vehicle.

Are safety technology packages worth the extra expense?

According to NHTSA, the answer is yes.  Earlier this year, NHTSA published a study which shows that the frequency of fatalities and the severity of injuries are reduced in newer model vehicles.  In other words, newer vehicles really are safer.

If you are in the market for a new vehicle for yourself or a loved one, consider purchasing a vehicle that is equipped with safe driving technology.  If you only have one such vehicle in your household, you might consider allowing the least experienced driver in your household to drive it.  Although it seems counterintuitive (and maybe a little unfair?) to let your teenager drive “the new car” while you continue to drive “the old one,” less experienced or responsible drivers might benefit more from having access to safe driving technology than more experienced drivers who tend to make better choices.