Posted on March 14th, 2016

New IIHS research bolsters case for automatic braking

One of the most important functions we perform at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is to evaluate new technologies for their ability to reduce injuries and deaths from crashes.

Several years ago, automakers started equipping some vehicles with systems that can detect other vehicles and obstacles and then warn the driver or automatically apply the brakes. As soon as we had data to analyze, we got to work studying the effects of those systems.

The evidence we’ve compiled over the past five years shows that these technologies, which we collectively refer to as front crash prevention, do reduce crashes and injuries. Our most recent study, released earlier this year, offers some of the strongest proof yet that front crash prevention works as intended. It’s the first study to use police-reported crash data to analyze the effect of these technologies.

Most of our earlier research on these systems was based on insurance claims data. By analyzing this information, we could see whether vehicles equipped with a particular feature are more or less likely to have certain types of claims. What we found is that vehicles with front crash prevention consistently have lower rates of claims for damage to other vehicles and for injuries to people in other vehicles.

The HLDI insurance claims database is a great source of information, and we continue to use it to study crash avoidance features. The longer a feature is on the market, the more insured vehicles have the feature, allowing us to make increasingly accurate estimates of its effect.

Insurance information has limitations, however. A big one is that in most cases it is difficult to tell what type of crash led to a claim. So while we might know, for example, that vehicles equipped with front crash prevention have lower rates of property damage liability claims, we don’t know whether those claims were for the front-to-rear crashes that front crash prevention is designed to address or whether they were for other types of crashes that wouldn’t be relevant.

In contrast, police reports are rich in detail. Using them for our latest study allowed us to specifically identify front-to-rear crashes and focus on how the technology affects the rate at which they occur.

We found that systems with automatic braking reduce rear-end crashes by 39 percent on average, while forward collision warning alone cuts them by 23 percent. The autobrake systems also reduce rear-end crashes with injuries by 42 percent.

If all vehicles had been equipped with autobrake that worked as well as the systems studied, there would have been at least 700,000 fewer police-reported rear-end crashes in 2013. That number represents 13 percent of police-reported crashes overall. In addition, 300,000 injuries would have been prevented.

Front crash prevention is becoming more and more common, but in most cases it’s offered only as optional equipment, which means large numbers of consumers don’t benefit from it.

However, that’s expected to change shortly. In September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and IIHS announced an agreement in principle with automakers to make front crash prevention with autobrake standard on all models. Since then, we have been meeting with representatives from NHTSA and the manufacturers to hammer out the details. We hope to have more information to share soon.

Adrian Lund is president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).