Forward-collision warning systems and headlights that help drivers see around curves reduce the number of car crashes while lane-departure warnings may increase the risk, a US insurance study found.

Forward-collision warning systems, which use a camera or radar to gauge what's ahead of a car, can reduce crashes with other vehicles by as much as 14 per cent and so-called adaptive headlights can cut the risk of a multiple-vehicle crash by as much as 10 per cent, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute found.

"Forward-collision technology is reducing claims, particularly for damage to other vehicles, and adaptive headlights are having an even bigger impact than we had anticipated," says Matt Moore, vice-president of the Highway Loss Institute.

The systems are proliferating in cars sold in the US. The insurance group, based in Arlington, Virginia, studied damage and injury claims for vehicles from Honda's luxury Acura line, General Motors' Buicks, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, the Swedish carmaker owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.


"The message for the consumer is if they are in the market for a new car, they ought to look for cars with forward-collision warning systems and also the adaptive headlights," says David Zuby, one of the main authors of the study. "We're finding that these actually help drivers avoid getting in crashes."

The crash-avoidance systems analysed were offered as options.

The Highway Loss Data Institute compared the insurance records of the vehicles with the features to the same models without them.

Clear patterns were found in property-damage liability insurance claims, covering damage caused by the insured vehicle, and collision insurance, covering damage to the insured vehicle.

Forward-collision warning systems alert the driver if the vehicle is gaining on traffic ahead so quickly that a crash is imminent. Some of the systems are equipped with autonomous braking so that even if the driver doesn't respond the car will brake on its own.

"For those times when your attention strays from the driving task, if you're about to have a crash, the system can warn you and get your attention back on the road so you can brake," Zuby says.

"And if for some reason you're slow to respond, it can begin braking on your behalf to take out some of the energy of the crash and make it less severe."

David Strickland, US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head, last year said his top priority is preventing crashes.

The agency has spent much of its first three decades trying to make cars safer, and says it has been studying forward-collision warning and autonomous braking systems since 2010.

- Bloomberg