Forget safety, we just want to look good

I once had a baseball coach who said one thing to us over and over again: “It’s not how you play, but whether you look good doing it.” Needless to say, we didn’t win a whole lot of games, but we did look good.

Well, it seems that American drivers want the same thing. According to a survey of U.S. drivers conducted by ORC International for MetLife Auto & Home, nearly 55% of those polled would prefer to drive a car with state-of-the-art technology. But, when given a choice, 63% of those polled want a “convenience feature” such as a GPS versus just 45% who want a safety feature such as electronic stability control.

“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 Bill Moore, president of MetLife Auto & Home. “By increasing their understanding of the available safety features in today’s vehicles, consumers can make more informed choices about which cars provide the best safeguards to help protect themselves and their families on the road.”

Now, not all Americans are about convenience. In fact, 85% of those polled believe cars are safer today, although only 29% think that the technology in the cars makes them better drivers. No surprise there. What is a surprise is that 63% think drivers rely too heavily on technology when operating their vehicles.

(To see what Ben Buchwalter, director of client outreach for GJEL Accident Attorneys, thinks are the 5 most dangerous in-car technologies, click here.)

“Auto manufacturers have made significant strides with regard to safety innovations over the past 10 years - but the ultimate safety feature is an alert and prepared driver,” said Moore. “Technology advancements have greatly improved the comfort and safety of cars, but overreliance on these features can be dangerous – drivers need to remember that it’s still up to them to operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner.”

Gadgets galore

More results from the survey:

• 90% of respondents were either very or somewhat familiar with GPS devices, which can make it easier to find your destination, but can take your attention off the road.

• 77% of respondents were either very or somewhat familiar with Bluetooth-style accessories, which can make taking calls in your car easier, but the conversation can still be just as distracting.

• 27% of respondents even indicated they were very or somewhat familiar with in-car social networking, only recently released in certain car models– a number that increased to 40% among younger Americans (aged 18-34).

So as we can see, “convenience” items, including social networking, rank well among today’s drivers. But when it comes to safety features, many of which have been around for years, the results were less than overwhelming.

• Less than half (42%) of respondents were very or somewhat familiar with electronic stability control. Almost one-third (31%) had never heard of it at all.

• 44% of respondents were very or somewhat familiar with brake assist, which applies additional brake force in the event of a sudden stop.

• 43% were very or somewhat familiar with forward collision warning, which alerts the driver when sensors detect an imminent front-end impact.

• 28% were very or somewhat familiar with the lane departure warning feature, which warns a driver that he or she is drifting out of the designated lane on a highway. Forty one percent of respondents had never even heard of the feature.

When it comes to paying for safety features, men are more likely to accept the added cost than women, the survey found. Although, only about 1/3 of those polled (34%) said they would pay extra for a safety feature such as electronic stability control, with men more willing than women (41% vs. 27%).

Even though they are unwilling to pay for these features, American did recognize the important role these systems play in making their commutes safer.

• Forward collision warning: 61% of respondents say having this feature in their car makes them feel safer, while 64% say the feature in cars around them makes them feel safer.

• Rear-view camera: 59% of respondents say having this feature in their car makes them feel safer, while 54% say the feature in cars around them makes them feel safer.

• Electronic stability control: 53% of respondents say having this feature in their car makes them feel safer, while 54% say the feature in cars around them makes them feel safer.

In the end, isn't the important thing that I impress my friends with the latest in gadgets? So fire up that TV, get someone on the phone, and don't forget to check in on Facebook. Just remember to watch the road.

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