IOWA CITY, Iowa — The majority of American drivers don't understand many of the safety technologies in their vehicles, according to a new study from the University of Iowa Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Division.
The study is important because many new vehicles now come equipped with such safety features as rearview cameras and stability control.
In addition, the latest safety technology, including cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and blind-spot warnings, is available on such mainstream models as the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200 and Mazda 3.
Even more advanced technology, once the realm of luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, can be found even on some moderately priced vehicles. Available on the 2016 Malibu, for example, are adaptive cruise control and a new pedestrian-avoidance feature, while the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta comes standard with a new post-collision autonomous braking system.
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 2,000 adult U.S. drivers to determine their familiarity with such safety features as antilock brakes, traction control, tire-pressure monitors, rearview cameras, back-up alerts, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warnings, forward-collision alerts and lane-departure warning systems.
They found that although the majority of consumers surveyed said they had "heard of, been exposed to, or interacted with all of the technologies," most respondents expressed uncertainty about their use.
It appears that adaptive cruise control caused the most confusion among those surveyed. More than 65 percent of respondents said they don't understand these systems, which are designed to maintain a safe, preset distance between vehicles by automatically applying the accelerator and brakes as needed.
Perhaps surprisingly, tire-pressure monitoring systems seem to bewilder 45.3 percent of the drivers surveyed. Another 35.6 percent say they don't understand lane-departure warnings.
At the other end of the scale, rearview cameras were not only well understood but ranked highest as the safety technology consumers would most like to see on their next new vehicle, followed closely by blind-spot warning systems.
"The level of confusion about features that have been standard in American cars for quite a while was really surprising," said Daniel McGehee, director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Division, referring to tire-pressure monitors and antilock brakes. "The little details about how some of these systems work are really important when we're talking about safety. We need to do a better job of making sure consumers are comfortable with them."
Luckily, help is available for drivers who would like to learn more about their vehicles' safety equipment.
As previously reported by Edmunds, MyCarDoesWhat.org, a new Web site from the University of Iowa and the National Safety Council, is online to help educate consumers about the latest safety features before they hit the road or head to a dealership to shop for their next new car.
The site includes a variety of infographics, educational videos and other information about vehicle technology designed to help drivers avoid or reduce the severity of a crash.
A good, basic understanding of these systems is becoming more important as an increasing number of models — even at moderate price points — incorporate them as standard or optional equipment.
Edmunds says: Dealers can be the first line of defense when it comes to explaining safety technology. Don't be shy about asking for a tutorial.