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IOWA CITY - Does your car have traction control? What about active steering or anti-lock brakes?
If you're not sure - or don't know how to use those features if you do have them - you're not alone, according to a new one-of-its-kind University of Iowa study. The research, which polled more than 2,000 adult U.S. drivers in recent months, found a majority reported some exposure to today's vehicle safety features but uncertainty around how they work.
About 40 percent of respondents also said they've experienced their vehicles act in a way they weren't expecting.
'The level of confusion about features that have been standard in American cars for years was really surprising,” said Daniel McGehee, director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research Division at the UI Public Policy Center. 'The little details about how some of these systems work are really important when we're talking about safety. We need to do a better job of making sure customers are comfortable with them.”
To that end, the university is partnering with the National Safety Council to launch a nationwide educational campaign called, 'MyCarDoesWhat.” The campaign, which already is gaining traction ahead of its official launch in October, aims to teach drivers how to interact with vehicle technologies in hopes of promoting safety and decreasing crashes.
It includes academic and consumer research, videos, graphics, animation, games, advertising, and applications across multiple platforms. It uses social media to increase its reach and involves demonstrations using a semi-automated 2016 Volvo XC90, which UI researchers obtained several months ago and have been testing around town.
MyCarDoesWhat.org showcases tutorials on more than 30 technologies, including anti-lock brake systems, backup cameras, traction control, blind-spot alert systems, adaptive cruise control and even newer technologies like drowsiness alert features and health and workload monitoring systems.
The campaign is being funded by a $17.2 million grant the UI Public Policy Center received last year following a Toyota Economic Loss class action settlement in California. Toyota denied allegations in the lawsuit that some of its vehicles were defective for accelerating without warning, but the corporation agreed to settle out of court, paying millions to plaintiffs and establishing the Safety Research and Education Program to support university-based research.
The UI survey on vehicle safety technology was the first project funded through its grant, and McGehee said the subsequent educational campaign aims to get 2.5 billion media impressions - that is visits to the website, uses of the mobile application, and any other interactions with the MyCarDoesWhat brand. The hope, he said, is to cut vehicle crashes, which continue to kill tens of thousands of Americans annually.
More than 30,000 fatal vehicle crashes occurred in the United States in 2013, killing 32,719, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic fatality rates per 100,000 people ranged by state from a low of 3.1 in the District of Columbia to a high of 22.6 in Montana.
Iowa saw 317 traffic deaths that year, or 10.3 per 100,000, according to the data.
'It's an issue we sort of nickel and dime,” McGehee said, adding that some crashes don't even make the paper.
But the problem is significant, he said, and driver education can help. According to the UI study, more than 65 percent of consumers reported understanding adaptive cruise control, more than 45 percent understand tire pressure monitoring systems, and more than 35 percent understand lane departure warning systems, while many remain vexed by things like anti-lock brakes.
'As technologies like rearview cameras and lane departure warning systems advance and become more prevalent in the cars we're driving, we have the opportunity to improve consumer understanding of these critical safety features,” McGehee said.