My so-called safety feature discount
Safety feature discounts are so 1990s.
Safety features on new cars have come a long way since the anti-lock brake system and dual-front airbags in my beloved beater, a 1997 Subaru Legacy. These days, even budget-priced cars come with as many as six air bags, and many high-end models come equipped with "crash-avoidance technology" that alerts drivers to dangerous situations. Crash-avoidance is a broad term used to describe features that do one of the following:
- adaptive headlights for increased visibility at night on curvy roads
- lane departure warning
- forward collision warning
- blind spot detection
- automatic braking
- electronic stability control (ESC helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers and is a federal requirement for all vehicles starting with the 2012 model year.)
Volvo and Mercedes were quick to employ such safety features over the past several years, and Ford is rolling out a lane-keeping system in the 2013 Explorer and Fusion models.
Crash-avoidance systems are expensive, either included as standard equipment on a very pricey car or as part of a $2,000 to $4,000 technology package on some less expensive models.
But what gives when it comes to insurers providing discounts for safety features? There is a big gap between what car insurers offer for safety discounts and what's currently available on many modern makes of vehicles. (See: "How to get low car insurance quotes.")
For instance, anti-lock brakes, which became standard in the mid '80s, qualify as a bona-fide discount for most insurers. There's also typically a write-down on your rate for motorized seatbelts and certain types of head restraints. (See: "23 tips to save money on auto insurance.")
But, to date, insurers have not embraced new safety features such as crash-avoidance technology when it comes to providing a discount.
"Insurance companies are not offering discounts for most -- if not all -- of active safety devices. They have been resistant for a number of reasons and we believe that discounts could really drive the demand and therefore increase the fitment rate," says Adam Kopstein, manager of safety and compliance for Volvo.
Still, if a car is considered safe by insurers, it may cost you a bit less in insurance. While a certain feature may not have a "discount" per se, a car with modern crash-avoidance technology might garner a lower rate in underwriting in general.
As for me, I won't be buying a new car any time soon, so I'll be happy to keep my outdated discount.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.