I saw this morning that much of the mainstream media started yelling fire in the…

I saw this morning that much of the mainstream media started yelling fire in the wake of a press release from the Highway Loss Data Institute on driver assistance systems. 

Before anyone panics it might worth actually pausing to read the full report and giving some thought to how the data was derived. (yeah I know, Ready- Aim-Fire is how media handles news these days) HLDI is the branch of the auto insurance industry that compiles data on claims. In general they don't go out and actually test vehicles like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does. The data in this study is based on real world claims data for various models from five different car makers that are available with one or more driver assistance systems including forward collision alert, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive headlights and lane departure warning.

In general the data indicates that active safety systems that intervene autonomously to avert or mitigate accidents can improve safety and reduce insurance losses. Systems that only provide an alert to the driver but don't attempt to correct the problem seem to be at best neutral or provide worse results although these differences were statistically insignificant and in a larger population of vehicles, the results could go either way. 

Unfortunately these apparent results may be a bit premature and even misleading. Since this is basically a summary of claims data correlated to vehicle equipment it's not really a very good experiment.

The comparisons of cars equipped with/without each system don't attempt to isolate the effects of those systems. For example the Volvos equipped with lane departure warning seem to do better than Mercedes or Buicks with similar systems.  However, the Volvos are also bundled with forward collision alert with automatic braking while the others are available as stand-alone options. The report's authors acknowledge this, but it does somewhat limit the validity of the apparent results. 

Another major factor to consider is that in almost if not all cases, these assistance features can be switched off by the driver and in some cases are off by default. The results do not seem to account for whether the systems were on/active or switched off. This way a car with lane departure warning that was switched off would still be counted in the group of vehicles that had the system if it slid off the road, even though it might as well have not been equipped. 

There are nuggets of very valuable data in this report and the efficacy of these systems is worthy of further investigation. However, this particular report is in no way conclusive of anything at this time and shouldn't be treated as such. 

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