Got $1,000? Buy a crash-avoidance system for your car

By Posted : 03/21/2014

Caution Tape CollageCrash-avoidance systems have been reserved for newer vehicles, mostly luxury models. But now anyone with a 2000-model car or younger and willing to buy one can have the safety technology installed.

Safe Drive Systems recently announced its Premier product, which uses radar to monitor the highway and let drivers know if obstructions or dangerously slowing traffic are imminent. Rona Aharonson, the CEO for the New York City-based company, says Premier can scan up to 460 feet ahead and checks the road 20 times a second. Drivers are alerted of hazards by audible warnings and a flashing light from a dashboard device, installed close to the steering wheel.

The basic system costs about $1,100 to install in most vehicles, model year 2000 or later. A more expensive system, called Premier Plus, is about $1,700 and adds lane-departure technology, says Aharonson. Lane markings are scanned through a camera placed near the windshield, alerting motorists if they're veering out of their lane. Safe Drive Systems notes that, like factory-installed crash-avoidance technology in higher-end cars, drivers can cancel the system by shifting the turn signal.

Collision-avoidance technology using autonomous braking, especially when combined with adaptive headlights, reduces crashes more than any other safety system, according to the report "They're Working: Insurance Claims Data Shows Which New Technologies are Preventing Crashes" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Its findings are based on Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) studies.

The HLDI evaluated the self-braking systems offered by Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo and found that property-damage liability claims fell by 14 percent compared to cars without.

Premier and Premier Plus do not have autonomous braking, but Aharonson says that could be a future enhancement.

If you're buying a new car, collision-prevention technology is typically offered as a pre-installed feature. Cars.com notes that forward-collision technology on a 2014 Ford Fusion sedan costs $995 and includes adaptive cruise control. Subaru's EyeSight system adds $1,295 to some 2014 Legacy sedans. EyeSight uses two cameras in its lane-departure warning and has adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, according to Cars.com.

Will techno-safety snag car insurance discounts? Not likely.

Newer technology-based safeguards, such as the Premier system, may help you avoid hazards, but it's unlikely they'll come with an auto insurance discount. Aharonson and others in both the auto and insurance industry say the more advanced systems are still being scrutinized by insurers.

Still, if you buy a new car that has high safety ratings, that is taken into account when insurers underwrite a policy, so you may get a lower base rate.

But more standard safety features, like anti-lock brakes, do qualify for discounts with many insurers. Here are the more common ones, according the Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com:

  • Air bags -- Insurers embrace them, and the more the better. You'll get a discount if your car has front air bags, but you'll get a bigger rate cut if it has both dual front air bags and side air bags. Gusner says that the discount is usually seen under your policy's medical payments and personal injury protection (PIP) section, and that some insurers will also discount liability coverages.
  • Anti-lock brakes -- A handful of states, including Florida, New Jersey and New York, require an insurer to provide a discount. But many insurers will reward one anyway if your vehicle has them. The discount, typically about 5 percent, may be applied to your liability, PIP, medical payments and collision coverages.
  • Seat belts -- A discount may be available if the car has automatic seat belts.
  • Crash-resistant doors -- Some insurers provide a 5 percent or less discount if your car has this feature. The reason, Gusner says, is that crash-resistant doors can lower the number of claims insurers have to pay.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC) -- A few insurers have added a discount of about 5 percent when a vehicle comes with a factory-installed ESC system.
  • Daytime running lights -- A 5 percent discount off your liability, PIP, medical payments and collision coverage may be offered.
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