• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

New car technology can help avoid collisions, test shows

This illustration shows a forward collision warning system that alerts the driver of a likely collision with the vehicle ahead of them.

July 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Today's cars are much safer in crashes than they've ever been before. Even so, more and more manufacturers are engineering cars that may be able to avoid crashes altogether.

New technology includes adaptive headlights to help drivers see around a curve at night and devices to help drivers avoid a lane departure and avoid having a forward collision.

But how well do any of these work? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did an extensive study of crash data and found some devices do work and some don't.

Researchers found adaptive headlights, which automatically adjust the lights to the direction of the steering wheel or widen them depending the speed of the vehicle, were quite successful.

"They're intended to help drivers see better at night on curvy roads, and they seem to be reducing crashes significantly," said David Zuby, the chief research officer for the IIHS.

On the other hand, lane departures didn't do as well.

"Lane departure warning systems are disappointing so far, we're not finding any benefit from these," Zuby said. "Part of the problem may be that they depend on the driver responding to the warning."

Forward collision warning systems alert the driver if they are getting close to a vehicle ahead of them so quickly that they are about to crash. But there are two versions of the system and one of them works much better than the other.

"Some of the systems only provide a warning and expect the driver to do the rest," Zuby said. "Other systems back up the warning by automatically applying the brakes if the driver doesn't respond in time."

The system that works the best automatically brakes the car. Research shows the system has limited the severity of crashes or avoided them altogether.