Are ADAS Systems Actually Preventing Crashes?

Are ADAS Systems Actually Preventing Crashes?

Are there any organizations that are tracking if ADAS systems are actually preventing crashes?

“Are there any organizations that are tracking if ADAS systems are actually preventing crashes? In the field, it seems like there are more and more crashes every year. My philosophy is that there are so many buttons, warnings, screens, etc., that people are paying less attention to road conditions, expecting the car to protect them.” — J.D. Goad, Goad’s Body Shop, Lexington, Va.

That’s a really good question, J.D. I commute 80 miles total every day for work and am amazed at the speeds people go, the road rage, the knifing in and out of lanes without turning on an indicator, the person going 100 mph in the far left speed lane who then has to abruptly cross three lanes of traffic to get off at an exit, the marijuana smoke pluming out of the vehicle in front of me, the people watching movies on their phones while driving, etc. Unfortunately, advanced-driver assistance systems (ADAS) won’t fix these bad human behaviors. If ADAS has decreased the number of accidents, it feels like increased speed limits, impaired driving, distracted driving and more have negated the decrease. 

And what do you make of U.S. traffic deaths hitting a 20-year high in 2022? More than 9,500 people were killed in traffic crashes within the first three months of 2022, representing the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002. In 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projected that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. Up until 2020, there had been three straight years of decline. No one can say why vehicle deaths spiked, but this all goes back to behaviors caused by COVID. Public health experts have suggested that the sudden rise in deaths on U.S. roads appeared to be linked to COVID, which left millions of people feeling isolated and stressed out.

“While there is no one causative factor, the reckless behavior is likely the confluence of increased drug and alcohol use, lack of safety constraints (like seat belts and texting), and greater opportunities for speeding and reckless driving given still fewer cars on the road, which is linked to feelings of liberation,” said Karl Minges, interim dean at the University of New Haven’s School of Health Sciences.

And my personal feeling is that when traffic resumed back to normal, those who “owned” the road before were mighty pissed. They were used to speeding, and an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study indicated that they refused to slow down even when more motorists came back to the road. The study indicated that speeding increased during the morning and afternoon commuting hours in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic — and drivers never slowed down. Another study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicated the number and rate of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a large reduction in the total number of miles driven on U.S. roads. Increases in crashes involving driver impairment, speeding and seatbelt non-use were reported.

You bring up a good point about the “buttons, warnings and screens” too. NHTSA constantly sounded warnings to the automakers that adding all the infotainment served as a distraction, especially touch screen systems. In its study of in-vehicle infotainment, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that these systems pose a high distraction risk to drivers. According to the research, operating these systems is mentally taxing to many drivers. In fact, the more complex the infotainment system, the more dangerous it was found to be for drivers. Even when the system uses voice control, drivers are still distracted. Alarmingly, the task that took drivers’ attention off the road for the longest amount of time was programming directions on multi-map GPS systems. This is concerning because many drivers perform this task. On average, programming directions resulted in 40 seconds of mental and visual distraction.

Despite all this bad human behavior, a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute and IIHS on the overall effects of ADAS technologies by comparing police-reported crash rates and insurance claims for vehicles with and without various ADAS technologies indicates that ADAS is indeed reducing the number of crashes and severity of crashes. Check out the infographic below.

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