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Studies: Lane-keeping, blind-spot systems do prevent car wrecks

Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that two automated safety systems -- lane-keeping and blind-spot monitoring systems -- substantially reduce both the number and severity of crashes. At the same time, they may cause drivers to be less vigilant or could even act as distractions.

Lane keeping systems

Lane-keeping systems, also called lane-departure warning systems, either warn the driver that the car is beginning to drift, or actually adjust the steering and put the car back into the lane.

After reviewing police reports on crashes that took place in 25 states between 2009 and 2015, the researchers found that lane-keeping systems reduced the total number of head-on collisions, sideswipes and single-vehicle accidents by 11 percent, according to the Associated Press.

The systems reduced the number with injuries by 21 percent, meaning that the accidents that occurred were less severe than they would otherwise have been.

The systems reduced the fatal accident rate by 86 percent, based on a simplified analysis, which didn't take into account differences in driver age, gender and insurance risk. Even if that reduction is somewhat exaggerated, it seems clear that the rate was cut significantly, according to the IIHS.

The group estimates that if all vehicles were equipped with lane departure warning systems, some 85,000 crashes might have been prevented.

Blind-spot detection systems

In a second study, the IIHS studied blind-spot detection systems, which warn drivers of vehicles in their blind spots -- typically by flashing lights in the side mirror. These systems were especially helpful in preventing lane-change crashes.

According to the researchers, cars with blind-spot detection systems were in 14-percent fewer lane-change crashes. The severity of the crashes was also lessened -- crashes with injuries dropped by 23 percent.

If every passenger car had a blind-spot detection system, the IIHS estimates that about 50,000 fewer collisions might occur each year.

Automated systems carry their own risks

A spokesperson for AAA called the two studies encouraging but issued a cautionary statement. These automated systems do change driver behavior, and perhaps not favorably.

An MIT study involving parking spot scanning and assistance systems found that drivers using such systems spent 46 percent of their time paying attention to dashboard displays rather than the road or parking lot itself. This compared to only 3 percent by those not using the systems.

Drivers who used blind-spot monitoring systems have also said they don't always make the effort to physically turn and look for vehicles in their blind spots. They rely on the safety systems.

An IIHS spokesperson confirmed it is possible that such changes to driver behavior could create new crash risks.

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