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Do drivers understand new vehicle safety features?

Cars are a lot more capable than they were even a decade ago. This isn’t just referring to speed, handling and other elements of the driving experience, either. In recent years, the focus of car manufacturers around the world has been to develop a suite of safety features to better protect drivers and passengers.

Vehicle safety technology has moved past simply acting post-collision, as is the case with passive features such as airbags. Now, cars are coming equipped with sensory equipment that can detect oncoming hazards and act to prevent injury either independently or through assisting the driver.

The introduction of these active safety features is something that is advocated by the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), which recently launched a campaign to have Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) as a standard in any new cars sold in the country.

ANCAP reports that human error contributes to 90 per cent of all crashes. Understandably, the evolution and increasing sophistication of automated safety features is something that will be welcomed by legislators and drivers alike.

However, with Roy Morgan reporting that 2.3 million Australians will be looking to buy a new car over the coming four years, will we be ready to use such newfangled technology?

Are drivers ready for new car features?

New research by J.D. Power has found that at least one in five people had never used 16 of a car’s 33 different features. The main reasons for not wanting such tech to feature in their next car ranged from not finding it useful, or having it as an unwanted addition to their current car.

“While some technologies, such as lane-departure warning, are making vehicles safer, the insurance industry is very concerned about the driver-distraction hazards caused by some of the other technologies,” said J.D. Power’s Chip Lackey.

“In addition, technology drives up the repair and replacement costs. A slight bumper scrape that would normally cost a few hundred dollars to repair can catapult a claim into thousands of dollars when a park assist camera or other sensors are damaged.”

Will drivers know what to do with all the new safety features?

When such features become standard, the question remains whether the average driver will be able to wrap their head around them. A new study from the University of Iowa (UI) involving over 2,000 adult drivers in the US has found that the majority are unsure as to how certain safety technology works.

The study examined knowledge and familiarity with nine different features, including an AEB, reversing camera, blind spot monitor, forward collision and lane departure warnings, rear cross traffic alert, anti-lock braking system (ABS), cruise and traction control.

While most of the participants were familiar with at least one of these, they were still uncertain about all the technology. In addition, 40 per cent of respondents stated that their car had acted unexpectedly in the past.

“As technologies like rear-view cameras and lane departure warning systems advance and become more prevalent in the cars we’re driving there is a tremendous need to improve consumer understanding of these critical safety features,” said Daniel McGehee from the UI’s Public Policy Centre.

“The little details about how some of these systems work are really important when we’re talking about safety. We need to do a better job of making sure consumers are comfortable with them.”

In addition to understanding a vehicles safety features, vehicle owners should also understand the difference between a green slip and comprehensive insurance.

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