• Oct 23, 2006
A study by Purdue University states that safety systems like ABS and airbags make drivers less vigilant. Fred Mannering, the professor of civil engineering at the university who led the study, brought his team to the water of five years of motor vehicle crashes in Washington State. The students began studying the collisions beginning in 1992, as that was about when airbags and ABS began to be introduced rapidly into the mainstream auto market.
The study compared the accident rates of 1,307 drivers, of which 271 switched from a vehicle without airbags to a vehicle equipped with them. Mannering states that this 'offset hypotheses' could explain why accident rates for anti-lock braking system-equipped vehicles actually increased when the technology was introduced. Mannering also stated that in his own experience driving his vintage MG roadster he is more cautious. Apparently, he also doesn't accelerate quickly on wet roads because his car doesn't have ABS?!

This report has nothing to do with the safety merits of the technologies themselves, but instead the assumptions on which drivers behaved during an important introduction of a new set of safety improvements. While we might agree that ABS and airbags may have given drivers a false sense of confidence, we would much rather be in an airbag-equipped Miata than an ancient MG if we were expecting to run head on into another object. It's hard not to feel like Mannering is letting his own experience and feelings influence his research, but you didn't hear that here. Additionally, it's probably not valid to make assumptions about the behavior of drivers today based on data that is over ten years old and was acquired during a transition period in safety technology. Furthermore, many safety experts, like NHTSA and IIHS, feel the findings questionable, as well. We encourage you to check out the article yourself at Ward's by following the 'read' link below.

[Source: Ward's Auto]


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  • 23 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      ABS breaks make drivrs less vigilent??? Hell these things break like shit on heavy snow... if anything you have to be MORE vigilent...
      • 8 Years Ago
      We should definately ban safety belts. I mean they are proven to encourage agressive driving (including the mother of all sins-"street" racing) by 175%.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Disclaimer: I've only been driving since '96, so I can't speak for drivers before that time. However, in my decade of experience, it seems that drivers are much less cautious now than when I began driving.

      It's only been within the last 2 years that I've felt threatened by tailgaters. Everyone seems to believe that their car will protect them no matter how badly they drive it. They put everyone around them in danger just to save a few seconds.

      Just a few weeks ago I was driving my ford escort, being tailgated by someone in a PT cruiser. It was a mother, on her cell phone, with 3 unbuckled children in the car following me so closely that I couldn't even see her headlights. We were travelling at 75mph.

      AFAIK, every state has tailgating laws, but I've yet to meet anyone who actually got a ticket for doing so. Here in NC, the two second following distance is law, but if you open up that distance, plan on at least 2 other cars pulling in ahead of you. Sadly, it was even worse where I lived in South Carolina.

      As a passenger, whenever I (politely) mention the totally unsafe and illegal way the driver is using their car, they laugh and say that their car can handle it. Sorry, but the laws of physics still apply. Just because you're safe, dosen't mean that you'll avoid killing everyone around you.

      So yeah, I think safety features are a great thing. However, when people compensate for their safety features by driving like distracted idiots I have a problem with that. We can't afford to let our streets and highways turn into a mass and safety feature arms race.
      • 8 Years Ago
      How about a 3 strike rule - 3 at fault, or no-fault-determined accidents and your license is revoked for a year. Better yet, include all accidents, even when it's the other guy's fault, to encourage defensive driving.

      In reality we have all the laws we need, we just don't enforce them strongly enough. Driver education and testing (and re-testing!) should be made harder, and they should bring back those disgusting accident videos with decapatated bodies (only update it to show SUV roll overs, airbag w/o seat belt injuries, etc). Force people to take it seriously!
      • 8 Years Ago
      There is some merit to this theory based on the growth of 4-wheel-drive vehicles in the late '80s and early '90s. Slick advertising put mainstream consumers into comfort zones with which they easily identified, such as snow packed roads. It wasn't long before every TV news report during a winter storm showed nothing but 4WD vehicles being pulled out of snowbanks. Drivers unfamiliar with 4WD simply didn't realize there were limitations to the vehicle's capability. They were convinced their SUV was glued to to the road, regardless of conditions. Certainly over-confidence or lack of understanding about vehicle dynamics has some bearing on the increased rate of vehicle rollovers. Will this phenomenon continue in light of the increased use of electronic stability control in vehicles? Are drivers going to hit 270-degree freeway onramps at full throttle, believing their ESC will control the throttle and individual brakes to ensure their safety? Will today's marketing campaigns be more restrained in promoting the benefits of ESC, or are there just too many fools who will try to test the system's limits on their own?
      • 8 Years Ago
      File this under the column with the people who complain that stability control will make crazed freaks out of us all.
      When power brakes were invented, did people complain that everyone would start braking later/following other vehicles too closely with all that extra stopping power? Probably. Were they right? No.
      • 8 Years Ago
      LMAO, Washington state? Same population as the county of LA? oooo kkkk. Sorry this just makes me chuckle, having moved to spokane from san diego. Here in spokane (WA's second/third largest city depending on who you ask) the traffic fatality so far is one. Go ahead and compare that to any major city in california. I guess it's a pie in the sky hope to think someone might, I dunno, get on board with the UC system and do some sort of study like this in... say... our countries most populus state? Maybe sample the data from tens of thousands of cases? No? Going to stick with a state the size of LA county where the third largest city has one fatality a year as a result of car accidents? Ok... just don't try and explicate your findings across the country where the driving conditions, populations, etc are drastically different.
      Fred Mannering
      • 8 Years Ago
      Thought I would join in...since I actually co-authored the study and own the MG. Interesting comments by all with good instincts as to how driving habits have changed over the years. I must point out that the Randall Halcomb posting erroneously suggested I accelerate the MG slower because it doesn't have ABS...this was taken out of context (we were actually talking about traction control)...but I suppose a stupid miss-quote like that helps get the ball rolling. And, I should point out that my MG is an MGC with the 145hp straight six...not blistering acceleration by today's standards but quite respectable for the vintage.
      Anyway, I have written textbooks on vehicle design and performance so I am quite familiar with the technology. But putting all of the study's findings behind, just think of it intuitively. I also race motorcycles and cars and, as a driver, on the track or on the road, I just find it impossible to believe that people don't adapt their driving behavior to the performance characteristics of their vehicle. As a simple example, if you gave my mother a Mercedes SL65AMG, she would definitely drive it differently than her Ford Focus.
      I think the real problem, as many have pointed out in their comments, is that drivers need to be better educated and trained...to realize that they are engaging in riskier behavior and in many respects are being "saved" by advances in vehicle technologies.
      Thanks again for the comments and feedback, and please feel free to download the entire study (without the popular press' interpretation) at:
      http://www.aei-brookings.org/publications/abstract.php?pid=1070
      • 8 Years Ago
      Perhaps I drove to many miles in different vehicles to compensate for those with or without ABS/airbags. Nuts! There are many who never drove without them and I don't fathom them driving one way or the other because of it.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I have met tons of people who havnt figured out how to use ABS brakes, you are supposed to hit the brakes and steer, not pump just like the text book says. if only..
      • 8 Years Ago
      If anything, having ABS/airbags makes me want to be more careful - as I have no excuse to crash!

      Anyway, what stupid data. Their conclusion should have been people are stupid and don't know how to drive.

      You should not drive unless you at least 'appreciate' or 'understand' cars. When I was in HS, there was a girl who said she hated to drive without music because she needed something to 'distract her from driving'. Need I say more?
      • 8 Years Ago
      People learn (from the media, educational programs, personal experience, etc.,) and adapt accordingly throughout their lives.

      Most people used to non-ABS brakes eventually learn and adopt correct ABS braking techniques.

      The person who initially thinks ESC makes him invincible will usually change his mind and behavior after a few mishaps. And, should he instead die of ignorance, others will learn from the tragedy.

      The inflexible few stop driving eventually, one way or another. They get replaced by drivers with no exposure to the old, schooled only in the new.

      It all works out in long run.

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