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Crash Avoidance Systems – What Happens When They Cause Crashes Instead of Preventing Them?

Our society is so dependent on cars that we lose sight of how dangerous these vehicles can be. The average vehicle on American roads weighs over 4,000 pounds. The force of impact when a heavy vehicle hits another object—even at a relatively low speed—can cause tremendous injuries.

Manufacturers are always looking for ways to make vehicles safer because vehicles with a higher safety rating sell better. The various crash avoidance systems implemented in recent years could be saving lives or at least reduce the severity of impacts and resulting injuries.

Sometimes, however, crash avoidance technology makes things worse. Problems can exacerbate or even cause accidents. When that happens, the manufacturer could be held liable.

Common Types of Crash Avoidance Systems

Many car owners are unaware of the number of different crash avoidance technologies included in their vehicles. Some systems have been around for years, while others are new and relatively untested in real-world situations. In some cases, these systems come standard on vehicles, but manufacturers make consumers pay for substantial upgrades to have these certain types of technology added to their cars. To add to the confusion, each manufacturer may have a different name for the various types of collision avoidance systems.

Some of the more common types include:

  • Blind-spot detection: Using radar or cameras, these systems scan the areas that are usually considered to be blind spots for the driver. If they detect another vehicle or possibly a person or object, a light typically comes on. Some systems will sound a forceful alert or even apply the brakes if the system believes the vehicle is about to make a dangerous turn or lane change.
  • Lane monitoring: Lane departure or lane keeping assist systems use sensors or cameras to monitor the vehicle’s distance from lane markers. If a vehicle crosses a line without using the turn signal, the system provides a warning and may steer the car back into the lane or apply the brakes.
  • Automatic emergency braking: If the vehicle sensors determine that a frontal collision is imminent, the braking system stops the vehicle.
  • Pedestrian detection: This system detects the presence of pedestrians and sometimes bicyclists and automatically applies the brakes to avoid a collision.
  • Forward collision warning: Various types of warning systems can alert the driver that they are about to rear-end the vehicle in front of them. If a driver does not respond, the vehicle may automatically brake partially or completely.
  • Adaptive headlights: As the driver turns the steering wheel, this technology shifts the aim of the headlights to illuminate the roads better on curves.
  • Rear cross traffic alert: This technology warns drivers in reverse mode about traffic approaching from the sides so they can avoid being hit in a side-impact crash or avoid hitting another vehicle in a parking lot. Warnings might include lights or sounds.
  • Adaptive cruise control: When a driver is operating in cruise control, this system monitors the distance to vehicles ahead and automatically brakes to maintain a safe distance.
  • Rear-view cameras: This technology provides enhanced viewing of the area behind the vehicle when the driver is backing up and often provides audible and visual cues to indicate when the vehicle is too close to an obstacle.
  • Automatic parking assist: These systems can help steer a vehicle safely into and out of parking spaces.
  • Fatigue detection: By analyzing steering behavior or lane position, this technology can warn drivers that they are showing signs of fatigue or drowsiness.

New technologies are under development all the time, seemingly inching us closer to the self-driving vehicles promised years ago.

Problems with Crash Avoidance Systems

In a perfect world, the crash avoidance technologies on our vehicles would always work as intended, keeping us and those around us safe on the roads. However, even when working perfectly, these crash avoidance systems are subject to problems. And sometimes they malfunction as well.

To begin with, many crash avoidance systems are not adapted to common weather conditions such as rain. Water can effectively blind the cameras and sensors that are essential for the crash systems to function appropriately. Manufacturers do not adequately warn consumers about this defect in performance.

Of course, the more complicated a crash avoidance system is, the more things there are that can go wrong with it. Malfunctions that cause this technology to fail are far too common.

Many times, the crash avoidance warnings go off during regular safe driving intervals, essentially crying “wolf” over and over. For instance, lane departure warnings can repeatedly go off when the lane markings on the road are faded or missing. Drivers condition themselves to ignore the warnings because they become virtually meaningless.

Other times, crash avoidance technology can become a distraction. For example, many drivers find the swivel action of adaptive headlights diverts their attention instead of focusing it. Finally, some drivers become overconfident because of all the technology in their cars, taking risks such as driving too fast for conditions because they believe their cars will adapt to correct any errors.

Who is Liable When Technology Causes Problems

The issue of the manufacturer’s liability for accidents involving crash avoidance systems is not always clear. Certainly, a manufacturer can be held liable when an attorney can clearly prove that a production defect caused a vehicle to malfunction in a way that triggered an accident. But defects are not always easy to prove. 

What about a situation where the car’s crash avoidance technology takes over and effectively controls the car by applying the brakes or steering in a different direction? If the vehicle operates in an illegal or unsafe manner while the automatic technology is in control, can the driver be held liable for what happens if they could not change the operation of the vehicle?

Attorneys Can Help When Crash Avoidance Technologies Fail

When the crash avoidance system on your vehicle or another car causes injuries in an accident, an experienced attorney can help you get the fair treatment, justice, and compensation you deserve. To talk to the dedicated team at the Maus Law Firm about the many ways we can assist after an accident, contact us for a free consultation.


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