Technology may be providing a cure for that bane of commuting drivers, the rear-end collision in bumper-to-bumper traffic, according to an auto insurance industry-funded study released Tuesday.
The study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that 2010 Volvo XC60s outfitted with a standard collision avoidance feature called City Safety are far less likely to be involved in low-speed, front-to-rear crashes than other mid-sized SUVs without the system.
Insurance claims that pay for damage to vehicles hit by an at-fault driver were filed 27 percent less often for the XC60 than comparable vehicles, the study said. Bodily injury claims were 51 percent less frequent, it said.
Volvo and other automakers have been offering safety systems aimed at preventing collisions at high speeds for several years. But City Safety is the first system to address more common crashes at speeds of less than 20 miles per hour. It has been standard on XC60s since the 2010 model year. It also is standard on 2011-12 S60 sedans and 2012 model S80 sedans and XC70 wagons.
"This is our first real-world look at an advanced crash avoidance technology, and the findings are encouraging," Adrian Lund, president of institute, said.
"As people grow more aware of the risks of distracted driving, crash avoidance systems like this one can help to ensure that a momentary lapse of attention during a congested commute doesn't result in a crash," Lund said in a statement. The institute is the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The system doesn't involve a warning to the driver that a crash is imminent. Rather, City Safety automatically brakes to avoid a front-to-rear crash. It uses an infrared laser sensor built into the windshield to monitor the area in front of the SUV when traveling at speeds of about 2 mph to 19 mph.
It detects and reacts to other vehicles within 18 feet of the XC60's front bumper during both daytime and nighttime driving. If the speed difference between vehicles is less than 9 mph, the system may enable the driver to avoid some crashes altogether, the study said.
If the difference is between 9 mph and 19 mph, the system may not prevent the crash but will reduce the severity of the damage and injury, the study said. It's not designed to work at speeds above 19 mph.
David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency is deeply interested in the potential for crash avoidance technology to significantly improve safety.
"The agency is aware of Volvo's impressive City Safety system and the many other systems that operate at higher speeds and hold the promise of preventing deaths and injuries as well as preventing property damage," Strickland said. "We are pleased to see automobile manufacturers moving forward with new technologies designed to improve safety."
City Safety has some limitations. Fog, heavy rain or snow may limit the ability of the system's infrared laser to detect vehicles. If the sensor becomes blocked by dirt, ice or snow, the driver is advised.
The system is automatically activated when the vehicle ignition is turned on. It can be manually deactivated by the driver.
Online: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: http://www.iihs.org.