How Technology Is Making Today's Cars Safer in Accidents

There's no denying that car safety has come a long way in the last half-century or so. Since the three-point seat belt was introduced in 1959, we've seen a multitude of modern gadgets and gizmos peppered into our rides to make us safer. From innovative alert systems and safety-enhancing sensors to full 360-degree cameras, automakers like to remind us that staying safe on the road is always in style.

New technology serves a greater purpose than just impressing drivers. High-tech features are actually helping people avoid and survive accidents, which is a pretty big deal, considering accidents are on the rise. And they're costing us — big time.

A recent survey by Esurance found that it's common for drivers to spend more than $1,000 out-of-pocket and 20-plus hours handling post-accident issues. Luckily, some state-of-the-art safety features can help you avoid getting hurt (or injuring someone else) in an accident. Here's how they work.

Keeping You in Your Lane
It's a situation we can all relate to: You're tired, but you drive home anyway. The last thing you want to do is drift off for a minute and come face-to-face with blinding headlights. Unfortunately, head-on crashes are more common than they should be — but technology is changing that. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that head-on and side-swipe accidents declined by 11 percent in 2015 because of a certain feature: lane departure warning. Other researchers claim that in 2015 alone, nearly 55,000 crashes could have been prevented if every vehicle in the United States was equipped with lane departure warning. When you stay in your lane, lives are saved.

Seeing All Around You
That hard-to-see area around your vehicle — the blind spot — certainly lives up to its name. It has been known to cause some serious accidents. Luckily, adding blind-spot detection to the rearview and side mirrors has helped increase driver visibility. In the IIHS study, researchers found that blind-spot detection reduced lane-change accidents by 14 percent. Seeing your blind spot: ironic in the safest way.

Warning You to React
Your cell phone, radio, and passengers are all common driving distractions. But even if you're paying attention, sometimes you don't have enough time to react. Forward collision warning technology triggers a loud beeping sound if something crosses your path, giving you up to five extra precious seconds of reaction time. And because rear-end crashes are the most frequent type of crash in America, every extra second matters.

Stopping for You
Thanks to an agreement between automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), most cars and light trucks will come equipped with an automatic emergency braking system by 2022. This feature works in tandem with forward collision warning technology to alert and stop drivers before they have time to react. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found that cars equipped with forward collision warning and active braking had 14 percent fewer insurance claims compared to the same cars without the technology. More proof that these systems work.

Seeing in the Dark
Driving at night can be unsafe, especially in rural areas without streetlights. But new headlight technology is making it easier to see after the sun sets. Adaptive headlights actually pivot as you're driving. They can move up to 15 degrees to the left or right, which is critical when navigating a curvy road at night. And the fact is, they really work. The HLDI found that adaptive headlights lowered property damage claims by 10 percent compared to cars with standard headlights. A bright spot, indeed.

Is the Technology Worth it?
It's easy to think "I'll never get into a crash," but the truth is the average driver experiences three or four accidents in a lifetime. Not only can they be physically painful, they can also drain you of your time, sanity, and money. Next time you're car shopping, consider choosing a model with new safety technology. It could not only help prevent costly accidents, but also could help save your life, or someone else's.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how IoT, machine learning, and other new technology will impact the auto insurance industry. You can learn more about Esurance's car insurance policies on its website.

Posted on Nov 28, 2018