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American car shoppers are considering safety in a way they never did just a decade or two ago. Thanks to rigorous testing programs from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government, it's now much easier to separate the safest vehicles from the rest.
But when it comes to safety features, it's still a little fuzzy—and when faced with a safety feature or a feel-good tech feature, most of us would choose the candy. So suggests a new poll that find, among many interesting points, that more Americans, would rather have GPS navigation (63 percent) than electronic stability control (45 percent).
At issue is that it seems many Americans just don't see the good that many safety features do, on an individual basis. Just 53 percent of respondents—to the MetLife Auto & Home American Safety Pulse poll—thought that electronic stability control (ESC) made them safer, and just 34 percent said they'd pay more for the feature if it weren't available.
Electronic stability control directly correlates to a 23-percent reduction in fatal crashes and reduces the chance of a single-vehicle crash by 59 percent. Beginning September 1 of this year, after a long phase in of many years, the feature became required in all production passenger cars and light trucks.
Oddly, a much higher percentage thought that other high-tech safety aids provided more of a safety advantage: 59 percent thought that a rear-view camera system made them safer, and 61 percent believed that a forward collision-warning system made them safer. In both cases, there's a likely benefit, but it's more debatable, and more conditional than electronic stability control.
Some feature beyond shoppers' vocabulary
A number of those polled didn't even recognize some safety features at all. Well under half of those polled were familiar with Brake Assist, which helps apply peak brake force in a panic stop (most cars include it), or forward collision warning, which warns of stopped or slowed vehicles ahead. A very significant number (41 percent) of respondents had never heard of lane departure warning systems, which might help avoid collisions when changing lanes.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of those polled (1,000 in all, in a phone-based poll) were familiar with GPS navigation systems and 77 percent knew of Bluetooth vehicle accessories. Both are items that, especially if improperly used, can take attention away from the road.
And there are signs of some further skepticism about all these newfangled safety devices. While 85 percent of Americans agree that cars are safer today, well under a third (29 percent) think that those safety innovations have actually made people safer drivers, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) think that drivers today are too dependent on tech features.
Still style over substance?
"The most recognized and sought-after technology features tend to be those which promote style over substance, when in reality, it's the less glamorous features like electronic stability control which make for safer vehicles," said MetLife Auto & Home president Bill Moore.
In other words, safety still doesn't sell cars quite the way it should.