The next era of driver safety technology

The next era of driver safety technology

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2025 and beyond marks the next era of driver safety technology, where drivers can expect fully automated safety features and even highway autopilot completely taking over the wheel. 

In May of 2023, the NHTSA announced plans to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) and pedestrian AEB, types of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), required on all new passenger vehicles and light trucks.

In the Travelers Institute webinar “ADAS in the Wild,” held Sept. 13, experts discussed how ADAS impacts drivers’ behaviors. According to Dr. Bryan Reimer, a research scientist in the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and in the AgeLab, as well as the associate director of The New England University Transportation Center, more data is necessary to provide a fuller picture of how new ADAS features actually impact safety and driving risks, such as speeding or distracted driving.

“Some survey data we started collecting in 2016 and collected in the years since, and more recently in partnership with J.D. Power, really begins to show quite strongly, drivers are looking for automation that helps assist them,” said Reimer. “They’re not looking to be replaced. They’re not looking for just automation that works in emergency situations only. They’re working for systems that really assist them. That’s the background, at the end of the day, of driver assistance systems, a range and suite of technologies that aim to support the driver.”

Travelers’ Personal Insurance vice president Amanda Mezerewski referenced research from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), which has published over 100 studies over the last 12 years on ADAS benefits based on crash and claims data.

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“In one of the most recent studies, it was found that vehicles equipped with most of these technologies are associated with reductions in claim frequencies for property damage liability and bodily injury liability approaching 40%,” Mezerewski said.

She added, however, that despite the reductions in claims frequency, the average dollars paid out per claim were higher. Mezerewski explained, “We can see that overall ADAS features contribute to higher average repair costs when crashes do happen. This is primarily driven by two reasons: First, the technology in vehicles is more costly. Secondly, the technology has shown to be effective in eliminating low-dollar claims, which results in an overall increase in the average value for claims that do remain.” 

Mezerewski emphasized, though, that the decrease in claim frequency surpasses any rise in average claim expenses.

Though more and more vehicles are being manufactured with ADAS features, McKinsey research reveals that some consumers hardly use these safety features – 25% to 30% said they seldom use their basic ADAS features, like active cruise control or parking assistance. However, when it comes to the future of autonomous vehicles, 51% of buyers said they could see themselves switching to a fully autonomous vehicle in the future; 19% said they would be open to vehicles without a manual drive option, and 32% said they would prefer to switch if manual driving was still possible.

Reimer explained in the Travelers Institute webinar that though automated vehicles and technologies are being tested in certain parts of the world, and even how some organizations use the terms more for marketing purposes, we are far from completely self-driving vehicles. 

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“In fact, nothing today is truly full self-driving on public roadways. Even the robotaxis being tested in California have human operators in the back office helping to remotely support the technology when decisions get hard and the vehicle itself can’t make robust decisions on its own,” said Reimer. “So for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of miles traveled will be driven by humans.”

This interest in ADAS and technology-enabled autonomy is especially high among electric vehicle (EV) drivers. McKinsey reports that only 5% of EV buyers are not interested in driving assistant features in the vehicles, and on average, EV drivers are twice as likely than traditional combustion vehicle owners to purchase ADAS features. 

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s “Electric Vehicle Adoption and

Impacts for the Insurance Industry” research shows that driver reliance on such technology can be risky, at first, and references a study by AXA in Belgium of over 1,200 EVs that found that EV drivers caused 50% more collisions than conventional combustion vehicles. The study also noted results from claims data compiled in China, where EV adoption is higher than in the U.S., which suggests that new EV drivers take about three years to learn to drive an EV as safely as a combustion vehicle. 

This interest in ADAS and technology-enabled autonomy is especially high among electric vehicle (EV) drivers. McKinsey reports that only 5% of EV buyers are not interested in driving assistant features in the vehicles, and on average, EV drivers are twice as likely than traditional combustion vehicle owners to purchase ADAS features. 

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Reimer stated that the interest and adoption of ADAS technologies continues to grow overall.

“Automation’s applications in safety, convenience, comfort and even sustainability just continue to grow. It’s clear that a lot of what we’re automating is to make driving easier, more comfortable and hopefully safer along the way,” Reimer said. “Advanced driver assistance systems, such as AEB, forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings, all aim to support driver safety, while other advanced features, such as Level 2 automation and adaptive cruise control, aim to enhance convenience.”

He added, “Hopefully, if well designed, these assistance systems focused on convenience can also provide some safety benefits. But a lot more data is going to be needed to better quantify these changes and how activities, such as speeding behavior, headway and more passive driving weigh with other risks, such as increased distraction and other related tasks.”