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IIHS Study: Rearview Cameras More Effective Alone than with Parking Sensors

  • Backup cameras may be more effective alone than when paired with parking sensors
  • Likely due to sensory overload for drivers trying to back up
  • Don’t just check every safety option box when choosing your next car

Rearview cameras are more effective when they aren’t paired with parking sensors. So says a recent study from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which examined driver behavior in vehicles with various levels of low-speed safety technology.

In the study, 111 drivers, asked to drive normally, were placed in vehicles equipped with parking sensors, rearview cameras, both technologies or neither. The IIHS then measured how these drivers fared when backing out of a parking space in the presence of a stationary object or a moving object behind the vehicle.

Not surprisingly, drivers using only their mirrors performed the worst in the stationary object test. A full 100 percent of those drivers hit the object, compared to 95 percent using the sensors alone. More interestingly, only 56 percent of drivers using the camera alone hit the object, a number that climbed to 75 percent when the camera was paired with the car’s parking sensors.

How do you explain the jump in collisions when more safety technology is added? It may be a matter of sensory overload: When drivers are trying to combine the acts of looking in their mirrors, listening to the sensors and watching the camera, there may simply be too much going on. The result is that they collide with the object because they’re trying to juggle too many systems. Another explanation is that drivers tend to ignore the camera when they hear the sensors beeping.

However, the results were less conclusive with the moving obstacle. There, drivers using mirrors alone hit the object 13 percent of the time — the same figure as drivers using just the camera, and roughly the same number as drivers using the camera and the sensors. The moving object was much more likely to be hit by drivers using just the sensors, who collided with it 40 percent of the time.

The moral of this story is that it might not be best just to pile on more safety technology in an attempt to make your car safer. Instead, test out each technology feature to determine which ones are right for you.

What it means to you: Before you check every option box when it comes to safety, spend some time behind the wheel to see what features you really need.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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