A Test of Auto Safety Features


I’m driving on the thruway and testing out two of the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in our new vehicle. Adaptive Cruise Control keeps us traveling at a constant speed but slows down the car to maintain a set distance between our vehicle and the one in front. The other feature I’m trying out is the Lane Keeping Assist System, which keeps the vehicle traveling in the center of the lane, automatically making adjustments to steering.

The AAA studied the effects of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and projected that over a 30-year period (2021-2050), automobile safety features could prevent 27 million crashes, 14 million injuries, and 250,000 deaths.

That averages out to 8,333 lives saved per year. In 2021 42,939 lives were lost on U.S. roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If 8,333 of those lives could have been saved due to ADAS, that would be a 20 percent improvement.

Icons, buttons, all kinds of safety stuff.

There are some caveats to these projections. For one, consumers need to know what these systems are, how they work, and be willing to use them. Case in point: the Adaptive Cruise Control is annoying. Because I’m coming up on another car in the left lane, it slows me down while I’m passing a car in the right lane, so now the car in the right lane passes me on the inside—and the driver gives me the finger.

I turn off the adaptive component and manually use cruise control.

There’s also the possibility of consumer confusion about the systems and how to use them. What one company calls Road Departure Mitigation System another company calls Lane Departure Warning. There are no standard terms for these features, only marketing terms.

And then we have the Peltzman Effect, which suggests that when safety features are implemented, people tend to increase their risky behaviors. The effect was named after Sam Peltzman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who studied the effects of automobile safety regulations.

According to the Peltzman Effect, “When safety measures are implemented, people’s perception of risk decreases, and so people may feel that they can now afford to make riskier decisions. As a result, the phenomenon predicts that mandatory safety measures actually experience a lower benefit than we would expect, because the safety benefits brought about by these measures are offset to some extent by increases in risky behavior.”

I can see how the Peltzman Effect might come into play. With both Adaptive Cruise Control and the Lane Keeping Assist System engaged, I don’t have to pay much attention to my driving. I can look at my screen for an extra few seconds to choose a new song or podcast. I can reach behind me for the lunch box or brush the crumbs off my lap after eating. It’s as if these safety features are allowing me to be more distracted.

Our vehicle also has Low-Speed Braking Control, Traffic Jam Assist, a Traffic Sign Recognition System, Blind Spot Monitoring, a Collision Mitigation Braking System, and others. I’m not saying these aren’t seriously helpful safety features. But safety still comes down to skilled drivers paying attention to road and traffic conditions.

I turn off the Lane Keeping Assist System. I find it disturbing to have my steering wheel making automatic adjustments. I’m quite capable of doing it myself. Maybe instead of a 2024 vehicle packed with safety features I should have gotten that 1971 Buick Rivieria with the boattail I’ve always coveted. It probably has seat belts, but not a lot of other safety features. I’d have to rely on my driving skills.

The 1971 Buick Riviera. How cool is this car?
By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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