Car Buying

Buying a Car: Are Today's Latest Safety Gadgets Necessary?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2016

If you're interested in buying a car, you've probably noticed that high-tech safety gadgets are available in just about every new model, from forward-collision warning systems to blind spot monitoring systems and from rear cross-traffic alert to lane-departure warning. Many cars even offer automatic braking, automatic high beams and automatic wipers. But just how important are these systems? Have they had any success in preventing collisions? And do you need them on your next car? We're taking a closer look to find out whether today's safety gadgets are really necessary.

Yes, They're Helpful

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, which tracks an enormous amount of car accident-related data, the answer is that modern safety gadgets are generally helpful. The firm says that insurance claim frequency dropped by 14 percent in vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning and autonomous braking, while Volvo found that claim frequency dropped by 10 percent in its own vehicles equipped with the feature. Meanwhile, vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning systems that don't include automatic braking also saw a minor decline in insurance claim frequency.

Vehicles with adaptive headlights -- headlights that swivel when you're going around a curve -- also saw a decline of up to 10 percent in insurance claims compared to vehicles that don't include the feature, according to the HLDI. That's an impressive number, especially considering adaptive headlights are really only useful during the evening.

Unfortunately, the HLDI is less convinced about lane-departure warning systems, and it has no data at all about blind spot monitoring systems and rear cross-traffic alert. While rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring systems are so new that the firm has not yet reported data about their benefits, the HLDI has said that lane-departure warning offers no apparent measurable benefit, though the HLDI hasn't tracked lane-keep assist systems that actively steer you back into your lane if you start to drift out of it.

Do You Need Them?

Although the HLDI isn't certain about all the features we've listed, the general gist appears to be that most of these items can help you avoid a collision. So do you need them?

Ultimately, we think need is a strong word, but there's no doubt that they're helpful. If automatic forward-collision braking is effective in preventing collisions, then we suspect that lane-keep assist has a similar effect, and that means having both systems in your car could help keep you and your passengers safe. Rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring systems and adaptive headlights have a similar effect.

Of course, these systems come at a cost, and we don't want to insist that you should spend thousands of dollars to prevent an accident that may never occur. But if you have some extra money left over when you're buying a car, we strongly suggest springing for some of these options. After all, it's hard to turn down an extra advantage when it comes to staying safe on the roads.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Are Today's Latest Safety Gadgets Necessary? - Autotrader