When it comes to choosing a new car, there are several new safety features to consider. In the past decade, items like adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alerts, and parking assist have become more common additions to today’s new cars. These features are designed to help drivers avoid accidents and, while they are helpful, there is a disturbing new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that reveals how often owners actually turn off one such safety feature: lane departure warning.
For those who aren’t familiar with lane departure warning systems in cars, they’re intended to keep a motorist from veering into oncoming traffic. This can be helpful, for instance, if a driver falls asleep while operating a vehicle. Depending upon the manufacturer, the warning system may work in one of several ways. In some vehicles, the driver will simply hear a warning chime and see an alert illuminate on the dash. Other systems are more aggressive and can be as intrusive as vibrating the driver’s seat or automatically steering the car back into the proper late. Regardless of the type of alert, lane departure warning works well to keep drivers in their lanes. In 2010, the IIHS estimated that lane departure warning could be a relevant safeguard in 23 percent of fatal crashes But, they only work when they’re on.
How often do drivers turn lane departure warning systems off? In their study, the IIHS reviewed over 900 cars from 9 manufacturers. They used real owners’
vehicles that came to the dealership for maintenance or service. Of those vehicles, only 51% of the owners left the lane departure systems on. In those same cars, crash avoidance systems like front collision warning had a usage rate averaging above 90%. The IIHS also found that the lane departure system was more likely to be disabled if it was more aggressive. In other words, the more invasive the system, the more likely the owner was to turn it off.
Some researchers argue that manufacturers make it too easy to turn off the lane departure warning system. To turn off the system on certain Honda models, for instance, one only has to push a button near the steering wheel. Other systems, however, are more complicated to turn off. Some require the driver to hold a button for a specified amount of time, while others require multiple steps in a sequence. This is also an issue if multiple people drive one car. Take for example a husband and wife who share a Honda Odyssey. Perhaps the wife wants the feature on, while the husband wants it off. With the system so easy to disengage, the wife may not even be aware that it has been turned off when she drives the vehicle.
Some users turn them off because they find that they aren’t always effective. For instance, the lane departure warning system on a new Chevy Malibu can fail when there is a lot of salt on the road. Some systems may not work in the rain or the fog, and lane departure warning systems that use cameras may not work if the lens is dirty. With these limitations in mind, it’s easy to understand why so many drivers choose to turn them off.One final reason why many drivers may turn off their lane departure warning system is that it engages more frequently than other systems. Unlike a front crash alert or reverse sensors, lane departure alerts are activated much more often. On rural roads, many drivers like to cut corners and cross the yellow line when driving, especially on a road with a lot of turns. Driving like this can cause the system to activate several times on even a short trip.
So, what is the solution? Should automakers make these features less invasive? Should they limit the ability to turn the system off? Education may be the answer. The IIHS is bringing this issue to the public’s attention. Perhaps they can do more to instruct people about the dangers of turning off crash avoidance systems.
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