LANE departure warning systems are saving lives in the US, research from one of the country’s top safety advocates has found.
The US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the technology, which can prevent a car from unintentionally running off the road, had lowered the rate of single-vehicle sideswipe and head-on crashes – the most common cause of death – by 11 percent.
More importantly, though, the rates of injury resulting from those crashes, recorded in 2015, fell by more than 20 percent if the warning system was working.
The US study could have huge resonance here in Australia. In Victoria alone, figures for 2015 show of the 179 drivers or passengers killed in single-vehicle crashes on the state’s roads, one in every two deaths involved hitting a tree, telephone pole or other objects that aren’t on the road. In NSW last year, 58 people died after running off a straight section of road, while another 74 died after their vehicles strayed into oncoming traffic.
"This is the first evidence that lane departure warning is working to prevent crashes of passenger vehicles on US roads," IIHS research vice-president Jessica Cicchino said. "Given the large number of fatal crashes that involve unintentional lane departures, technology aimed at preventing them has the potential to save a lot of lives."
The IIHS estimates that if all vehicles on US roads in 2015 had lane departure technology installed, as many as 85,000 crashes could have been avoided. A more simplified analysis predicted the technology could have avoided almost nine out of every 10 crashes.
The US study follows a similar one conducted in Sweden that found about two in every five crashes caused by cars inadvertently leaving their lanes could have been avoided had the drivers had warning that they were about to drift out of them.
The IIHS believes that part of the problem with the technology in the US is that up to half the drivers sitting behind the wheel of vehicles equipped with lane departure warning systems switch it off – because they find it annoying.
Lane departure warning systems vary from brand to brand. Some will beep when a car gets close to the lines that either marks the left-hand margin of the road or the broken line marking the next lane, some will shake the driver’s seat or steering wheel, while others will automatically apply the brakes to one or more of the car’s wheels to drag it back on line.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program, which independently rates the crash safety of new cars sold in Australia, awards up to three bonus points in its scoring system for those that include lane-support systems.