Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and airbags – remember the fuss? Car tech has moved on. Now it’s about advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that scan the road ahead to help keep you safe.
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The lengthening (and pricey) advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) options list includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring to lower your daily driving stress and keep your no-claims bonus out of trouble.
So what car safety technology do we need – and what’s less important?
ADAS covers a number of driving aids. These include:
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) which applies your car’s brakes if you don’t, helping avoid an accident. Some systems can detect pedestrians and cyclists
Blind Spot Monitors are blinking LEDs mounted on your car’s wing mirror or inside the car that detect when another car gets too close
Lane Keeping Assist attempts to keep your car in a central lane position. This is useful for drivers doing many motorway miles who maybe prone to fatigue
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) helps to keep a safe speed from the vehicle in front, increasing and decreasing the speed when necessary
The insurance industry agrees that forward collision systems – specifically Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) combined with a forward collision system – is the most effective accident prevention tool to specify for your car.
Most new vehicles now have AEB as standard but some cheaper cars don’t. So always double-check before buying.
There are several ADAS system options. In order of statistical effectiveness, including AEB:
AEB systems have slashed the chances of crashes with injuries by up to 56%
Blind spot detection, in contrast, has seen a 23% cut in lane-change crashes with injuries
Lane departure warning systems have seen a 21% reduction
(Stats sourced from LexisNexis)
“Early AEB systems functioned at lower speeds, avoiding collisions with other vehicles only,” it says. “However more recent systems operate up to motorway speeds and in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.”
But bear in mind all these ADAS systems are assistance systems only – they do not replace a responsible driver.
Confusingly, AEB is called different names by car makers. Volvo tags it City Safety while Ford call it Active City Stop; VW label it City Emergency Braking. Other branding names lurk too
If your car doesn’t have AEB it will not have a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
“If you’re buying a car from a showroom, ask the dealer if it has standard-fit AEB. If it doesn’t, make it a deal breaker, unless its included for free,” advises Thatcham Research.
The speeds at which different AEB emergency braking systems work can vary, so do check. Not all AEB systems are equal
Good safety features are generally good news for your insurance premium says Gareth Davies, head of car insurance at More Than.
“If you’re unfortunate enough to have a car accident, ensure that technologies, like parking sensors, are still working properly afterwards – they might need to be recalibrated even if they weren’t damaged in the collision.”
Not all insurers will cover the cost of re-calibration – always check your policy.
Everyone uses their car in slightly different ways. Zoe Hanson, motor claims specialist at NFU Mutual, told Uswitch that drivers who regularly use busy car parks can benefit from aids like reversing cameras and reverse automatic braking.
“For those who commute regularly on motorways, adaptive cruise control and lane-change assist may be an important factor when choosing their next vehicle,” she adds.
Head-up display – a feature trickling down from high-end vehicles to mid-range ones – projects speed and sat-nav directions, typically, onto your windscreen. It helps keep your eyes on the road without looking away at the dashboard.
Rear traffic Warning – this tech deploys your car’s rear camera and parking sensors to check the road is clear before you reverse onto a road. Useful in car parks.
Fatigue monitor – it can go under a number of names such as Driver Alert Control. This tech can measure your face for signs of fatigue. Fatigue is a major contributor to road accidents.
Active headlight systems – these cut the glare of your lights to other motorists as well as projecting light better around curves and in hilly conditions. Can be also useful in bad weather.
Malcolm Tarling from The Association of British Insurers, which represents much of the UK’s insurance and savings industry, warns that car tech is making some vehicles expensive to repair.
“I’ve seen a description of the average family car now equates to a computer on wheels. Even fairly basic stuff, like repairing or replacing headlights. Many are sealed units these days.”
A lot of vehicle computer technology is packed near the car’s wings, so vulnerable to damage
Increased technology means higher repair costs – even for relatively minor incidents
Around 90% of road accidents are caused by human error
If 90% of car accidents are down to human error, car makers have good reason to improve car safety technology.
Yet drivers are still legally at the helm of the wheel warns Dr Lisa Dorn, associate professor of driver behaviour at Cranfield University. “Even the most highly automated vehicle of the future may need to issue a take-over request when operational limits are reached,” she told Uswitch.
In other words, technology can only do so much, now and in the future. Dr Gemma Briggs, senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University, says if a driver knows their car won’t let them veer out of their lane, or exceed a speed limit, do they still need to pay attention to the basic driving environment?
“If not, does this mean they have ‘spare’ attention to do other things – such as have a phone conversation or dictate a work document? What does this mean for their overall awareness of the driving situation?”
These are still difficult questions still to be addressed thoroughly.
The technology needs to improve. Kamran Saleem is the MD of Solihull-based garage MotorServ, which sells used vehicles. Most vehicles for sale are equipped with high-tech ADAS driving kit.
Some high-tech sensors are far too sensitive Saleem says. He gives an example – a car on a motorway overtaking a truck where the road is bending to the right, slightly.
You put your indicator on and move to overtake. Just as you overtake the truck your car suddenly brakes because the looming mass of the large truck, following the curvature of the road, has confused the car’s sensors
This is potentially a tricky situation not just for the car and truck but for any vehicle behind
In some circumstances, black box insurance or ‘telematics’ means if you drive with care your insurance premium may go down. Black box insurance measures your driving style – speed, cornering, braking. Your premium is based on your driving record.
This can be good for drivers who want to prove they’re safe behind the wheel – including inexperienced drivers, older people and those with driving convictions.
Up to a point. Expect more driver support and automation tech but more complexity, which will add pressure to the cost of insurance repairs.
All ADAS systems can require a lot of re-calibration after a crash. Some components are increasingly complex, like lights and windscreens. Even something as simple and ‘cheap’ as a windscreen can include:
autonomous emergency braking tech
a head-up display
heated element to keep the screen from fogging
Don’t get too carried by the tech on offer, however ‘smart’ it claims to be. Technology itself can be distracting (as Dr Dorn and Dr Briggs point out). While ADAS driving tech systems have their place, the bulk of your insurance premium is calculated on where you live and other details about your life.
More safety tech doesn’t automatically make your premium cheaper – but it may help.
Remember, the biggest safety feature any car has is the brain behind the wheel.
Dash cams still can potentially act as an accident witness. Dash cam maker Nextbase told Uswitch that more than 40 insurers now accept dash cam footage – with discounts on premiums offered, in some cases.
In almost 40% of split liability claims, Nextbase says video evidence would have changed the outcome to no-fault, according to its research.
Some dash cams include time and date stamps and even G-force sensors
Some insurers recognise that drivers who fit a dash cam are often more cautious behind the wheel
Low end models can start from £70 right up to £300 or more
The 2021 What Car? Safety Awards with Thatcham Research awarded the VW ID.3 the top safety award thanks to its collision-avoidance systems, lane departure support and standard-fit multi-collision braking system.
The compact Toyota Yaris was a runner up. “It’s crash avoidance credentials are strong, having scored 85% for Safety Assist,” said What Car?. The Yaris also offers good protection to other road users.
The Seat Leon was a runner up also, alongside the Yaris. “Its Adult Occupant protection score was the benchmark for the year and the introduction of a centre airbag to prevent occupant-to-occupant interaction in a side impact supported that result,” said Thatcham Research.
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