Automatic braking systems — currently installed on some Volvo vehicles — could slice the number of low-speed crashes that happen in typical commuter traffic by a quarter if widely adopted, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The institute, which analyzes claims and damage issues for the insurance industry, reviewed the advanced forward collision avoidance system that has been standard in the Volvo XC60 midsize SUV since the 2010 model year.
The system uses a laser sensor built into the windshield to automatically brake a vehicle and avoid a rear-end crash at low speeds.
The vehicles equipped with Volvo's City Safety system were far less likely to be involved in low-speed crashes than similar vehicles that did not have the safety feature, the institute found. There were 27% fewer "at-fault" insurance claims for XC60 drivers compared with operators of other midsize luxury SUVs.
"This is our first real-world look at an advanced crash avoidance technology, and the findings are encouraging," institute President Adrian Lund said Tuesday. The institute is the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The accident rate fell for "the kinds of front-to-rear, low-speed crashes that frequently happen on congested roads," he said.
Volvo's system works at speeds of about 2 to 19 miles per hour by sensing vehicles within 18 feet of the front end of the SUV. If the speed difference between vehicles is less than 9 mph, it can prevent a crash. If the speed difference is greater, it can reduce the impact and the damage inflicted. It is not designed to work at speeds faster than 19 mph.
The system also is standard on 2011 to 2012 Volvo S60 sedans and 2012-model S80 sedans and XC70 wagons. Volvo and other automakers are working on similar systems that would prevent crashes at higher speeds.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that the results of the study were encouraging and that it was conducting research on other forward-collision warning systems as well as the rapidly evolving crash-imminent braking and dynamic brake support systems.
Such systems "hold the promise of preventing deaths and injuries as well as preventing property damage," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said. "As we continue to evaluate these systems and their ability to reduce the frequency and severity of vehicle collisions, we are pleased to see automobile manufacturers moving forward with new technologies designed to improve safety."
The Highway Loss Data Institute is also looking at the efficacy of other safety systems.
"Crash avoidance technology has a lot of promise," Lund said. "We are doing more research to see if other systems live up to their billing."