Most Drivers Like New Advanced Safety Technology, CR Survey Says
The most popular systems are the least intrusive ones, but they’re no replacement for an attentive driver
Drivers like car safety technology best when it helps them see what they sometimes can’t, such as checking blind spots or obstacles hidden behind their vehicle.
That’s what over 47,000 CR members told us when we asked them how they felt about their vehicles’ advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which use sensors, cameras, and other technology to give drivers added safety and convenience.
Studies from AAA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that technology such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), BSW, and backup cameras can reduce crashes. Most drivers said they were very satisfied with these systems.
Features that improve convenience are just as popular. Although Tesla’s Autopilot is the best-known example, about half of new vehicle models offer some combination of LCA and ACC that can be used at the same time to automatically steer, brake, and accelerate in certain situations.
Over half of the vehicle owners we surveyed told us that these systems make driving less stressful. But Funkhouser warns that it’s important to remember that they’re designed only to make driving easier.
“Some of these systems work really well at making driving less stressful, so it’s easy to become complacent,” she says. “But as soon as drivers let their guard down, something could quickly go wrong with the system. The driver must stay vigilant and in control of the vehicle at all times.”
Funkhouser says it’s important to try these systems before you buy a car.
“Ask the salesperson to show you how all the features work while on your test drive,” she says. “That way you aren’t surprised when your car does something unexpected, like starting to beep or hitting the brakes. Every system works differently, and they can take some time to get used to.”
This is how our members feel about the ADAS systems in their cars, trucks, and SUVs. The systems appear below in order of satisfaction, from most to least.
Forward Collision Warning
FCW gives visual and/or auditory warnings to drivers if they’re about to get into a collision. A 2018 Subaru Forester owner wrote that FCW “literally saved me from an accident.” The driver of a 2018 Toyota RAV4 credited FCW for preventing crashes when he was “distracted or a car stopped suddenly.”
CR awards extra credit to a model’s Overall Score if the car comes standard with systems that can also operate at highway speeds and detect pedestrians. Some systems let drivers adjust the timing of FCW to early, standard, or late. If you get too many warnings—and you’re sure you’re not tailgating other drivers—look at your owner’s manual to see if you can make an adjustment.
Learn more about forward collision warning.
Automatic Emergency Braking
It’s easy to see why AEB is so popular with our members, many of whom wrote in with stories similar to a grateful owner of a 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid:
“I try to not follow the next car closely. But [AEB] has saved my bacon on the freeway and around the town a few times.”
All AEB systems automatically hit the brakes to prevent a crash or lessen the severity of an impact, but not all systems work the same way. Some engage only at low speeds, while others can slow a car on the highway.
Similarly, some AEB systems can also detect pedestrians and cyclists. As with FCW, the best AEB systems are the ones you don’t notice. Systems that brake when there isn’t a danger can be startling and even hazardous—both for the driver and others on the road—and are the subject of multiple active investigations by federal safety officials.
Learn more about automatic emergency braking.
Federal law requires all cars sold after May 1, 2018, to have a backup camera. Even though this feature is popular with drivers, who get a better view of their surroundings without having to turn their heads or crane their necks, some backup cameras are more beloved than others.
“Big, clear screens are a plus, as are cameras that are designed to stay clean so you can actually see what’s behind you,” Funkhouser says.
Learn more about backup cameras.
Rear Cross Traffic Warning
RCTW, which alerts drivers if there’s traffic that they could hit while backing up, is our members’ favorite ADAS feature.
“Especially as SUVs grow in popularity, it can be hard to see if the coast is clear when you’re backing out of a parking space,” Funkhouser says. Notably, rear AEB—which automatically stops a car if there’s an obstruction behind it—is less popular, with many drivers complaining about false alarms.
Learn more about rear cross traffic warning.
Blind Spot Warning
BSW makes for safer lane changes, a real boon for drivers in vehicles with big blind spots.
CR gives bonus points to models that have BSW as standard equipment across all trims, and our members also rate it favorably. Funkhouser says that the best systems put warning lights in a vehicle’s side mirrors.
“You should already be checking your mirrors, so it’s the natural place to put a warning,” she says.
In prior surveys, two-thirds of drivers who used BSW told us it helped to prevent a crash. It’s now a commonplace option on many affordable vehicles, and some survey respondents told us they wouldn’t buy a vehicle without it.
“It is a practical and useful feature that I now consider a critical requirement in any future auto purchase,” wrote the owner of a 2020 Subaru Forester.
Learn more about blind spot warning.
Adaptive Cruise Control
ACC, which uses sensors to assist with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a driver-selected gap from the vehicle in front, is meant for convenience, not as a replacement for an alert driver, Funkhouser says. So don’t use ACC as an excuse to get distracted.
The drivers who like ACC the most say it helps relieve stress on highway drives.
“I use the feature mostly on the freeway and in stop-and-go traffic. I find it reduces tension and fatigue,” wrote a 2020 Subaru Outback owner.
A 2018 Audi Q5 driver agreed: “It is so nice to just set it and let the car worry about the traffic.” Not all ACC systems work in low-speed traffic.
Learn more about adaptive cruise control.
Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assistance, and Lane Centering Assist
Many respondents indicated they were confused about how lane systems work and the differences among multiple systems with similar names.
Unlike other advanced safety systems, a very slim majority of drivers said they were “very satisfied” with Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA). The most frequent complaints about LDW systems were that they sounded an alert even when a driver was intentionally crossing a lane line, such as to pass a cyclist or avoid an obstacle in the road. Some drivers also disliked the types of beeps and alerts these systems gave.
A larger number said they liked LCA. Funkhouser says that different vehicles interpret “centering” very differently.
“Some try as hard as they can to keep your vehicle in the dead center of the lane, while others allow drivers to steer smoothly within lane lines to avoid potholes,” she says.
And all of these systems are only as good as the lines on the road. That means they can become confused by multiple markings painted during road construction, lane lines that are faded or covered by snow, markings that suddenly disappear or merge as lanes come together, or if a camera lens is blinded by direct sunlight.
Learn more about the difference between LDW, LKA, and LCA.