New study shows consumers don’t understand vehicle safety features

A new study out the University of Iowa has shown that most consumers don't understand how their cars' safety features work, or how to use them in case of an emergency.

A new study out of the University of Iowa's Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Division just found that the majority of drivers are unaware of how many vehicle safety features work. Aside from the the majority of respondents expressing uncertainty over these features, over 40 percent of those surveyed claimed that their vehicles acted or behaved in unexpected ways.

The study used a combination of literature review, academic and industrial input, and an in-depth survey presented to more than 2,000 adult drivers across the United States with the ultimate goal of examining drivers' knowledge of their own vehicles and attached safety systems.

Altogether, the study looked at nine safety technologies, including:

  1. Back-up Cameras.
  2. Blind Spot Monitors, which alert drivers when a vehicle might be lurking in their blind spots.
  3. Forward Collision Warnings, which let drivers know when they're closing in on the vehicle ahead of them dangerously quickly.
  4. Anti-lock Braking Systems.
  5. Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which warns drivers to oncoming traffic while their vehicles are in reverse.
  6. Automatic Emergency Braking Systems, which can apply a range of brake force when an on board system of sensors detects an imminent collision.
  7. Lane Departure Warning, which informs drivers whenever they drift into another lane without activating a turn signal.
  8. Adaptive Cruise Control, which, like normal cruise control, maintains the speed of the vehicle. Unlike normal cruise control, however, it also obeys a pre-set maximum following distance.
  9. Traction Control, a background technology that helps accelerate and prevent the wheel from slipping when the vehicle encounters a slipper surface.

While most respondents had at least heard of or experienced one of the nine safety features studied, they on average expressed uncertainty towards the remaining eight. The least understood features studied were adaptive cruise control, which a staggering 65 percent of respondents were unsure of, and departure warning systems. Several older systems that have been staples in American cars for decades, like anti-lock braking systems and tire pressure-monitoring, also generated confusion.

"As technologies like rear-view cameras and lane departure warning systems advance and become more prevalent in the cars we're driving," says Daniel McGehee, the director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Division at the UI Public Policy Center, "there is a tremendous need to improve consumer understanding of these critical safety features."

McGehee went on to express his surprise over the older systems, like anti-lock braking, still creating confusion. "The little details about how some of these systems work are really important when we're talking about safety," he said, adding, "we need to do a better job of making sure consumers are comfortable with them."

The help solve this problem, the University of Iowa announced a partnership with the National Safety Council to launch a campaign called MyCarDoesWhat. Its website contains a series of educational videos that thoroughly explain how safety features work, and how to use them, and is going to be coupled with a data-driven national campaign this fall.

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