Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Jim Bray

Are so-called safety nannies endangering your car's value?

By Jim Bray
June 13, 2024

Lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, front cross traffic monitors, driver awareness warnings – all of these are bits of technology supposedly designed to help keep you safe when you're behind the wheel. And maybe they do.

But what if they're just expensive add-ons – that you have to pay for anyway – that not only lull drivers into a false sense of security that they're "safe!" but which could also affect your car's value if it's involved in a collision?

According to a recent article by Chris Chilton, as run on MSN's website (I know, I know…), an ugly reality of nanny life is that about 20 per cent of such nanny-equipped cars end up being written off completely after the vehicle was crunched (or crunched someone else's).

It's basically because these ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) are causing insurance companies to throw up their little corporate hands and saying "to heck with it".

Here's how Chilton described it: "The rocketing cost of repairing crashed cars means 21 percent of wrecks now result in a vehicle being totaled by insurance firms, a five-fold increase versus 1980. And some experts think that number could jump to a staggering 30 percent as cars become even more complex.

"Ironically, it's the same ADAS driver aids designed to save us from having an accident in the first place that are being blamed for the rise in write-offs when we do crash. The tech that goes into those systems is so expensive that insurers are finding that it's not worth sanctioning a repair."

I've railed against these "ADAS" things for years. Good drivers don't need them because, well, they're good drivers who pay attention to what's going on around them. And bad drivers shouldn't have them (oops, that's a tad Big Brother of me!) because the stuff can bail them out and there's no incentive to actually improve one's driving skills.  And driving skills these days – anecdotally, from my and others' observations – seem to be disappearing from our roads at a rapid pace.

Chilton again: "Replacing the multitude of sensors and cameras required to make an ADAS kit like automatic braking and lane keeping assistance function, and then calibrating those systems to make them work correctly, can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a repair, a report by Bloomberg citing data from CCC Intelligent Solutions, says. And that's pushing up repair prices that are already elevated as a result of rising labor and material costs affecting even the most basic of car fixes."

I like to consider myself a reasonably advanced driver. I've taken probably a dozen or so advanced driving courses mostly, I must admit, for free through my job as a car writer. But the first one, I paid $500 for about 20 years ago – a two-day course on our local racetrack when there was such a thing. And that not only put the hook into me to pursue driving excellence (I think I've just passed driving excremence in my pursuit of driving perfection), it also qualified me for the racing license I always dreamed about but never pursued.

These courses, regardless of expense, are a terrific way not only to improve your skills (and thereby, hopefully, avoid collisions) they also teach you things about your car and how it acts in various situations – a quick physics lesson – and, even better, they're a heckuva lot of fun! They also make you a more confident driver, not cocky (well, I know one guy…) but more at home with the vehicle and what it can do.

Which means you don't need all this expensive electronic crap designed to ensure you never have to pay attention any more.

I don't know of any statistics relating to this next thought, but I wonder if this relying on the vehicle's nannies can be contributing to collisions, as drivers who feel safe and secure in their vehicular bubble turn their attention to other things, such as texting.

Gesturing I can understand, given the state of today's drivers, but that only requires one hand, or finger, and doesn't require a lot of time with your attention off the road.

Why can't we just order our vehicles without all this add-on "safety" stuff? Sure, make it available as a "safety package" if you must, but I object to consumers being forced to pay for this stuff even if they're just going to shut it off. And while you can usually shut off most of these annoyances, sometimes they don't go off completely and sometimes you have to shut the damn thing off every time you fire up the vehicle.

I know anecdotally of people who don't even realize these nannies are there, let alone what they're for. They drive down the road wondering why the vehicle is hollering at them, or trying to pull the steering wheel from their hands. And the interference of the "safety system" can be distracting itself as the driver's attention is taken from the road to the vehicle and its intrusiveness.

And sometimes the nannies themselves are idiots. I remember well during some winter driving when a particular vehicle's lane keeping assist would freak out because it couldn't see the lines on the road (which happens when it snows!) and therefore it thought I was going to die horribly.

Yet I didn't!

I hate to point at one particular brand, but Subaru has the most annoying nanny I've experienced to date: the vehicle actually monitors the position of your head (apparently to combat texting while driving) and if it thinks you're not looking at the road enough, it sets off an alarm on the instrument panel telling you to watch the road. Of course, you have to see the warning first to know this, which means your eyes still aren't on the road until the you've paid attention to the car's on-dash lecture.  

And you get to pay for this!

Safety? Maybe. But I'd rather trust my own – as Rush Limbaugh used to say – intelligence guided by experience than rely on what some dude or dudette in a far-off place thinks I should be doing, especially since that dude or dudette has probably never been on that road under any condition at any time.

This is one reason I'm on a bit of a "save the old cars" crusade and it's also a reason why my wife and I – as much as I love driving new vehicles once the nannies are shut off – have no plans to get rid of our 11 and 19-year-old vehicles. They're in great shape, with fairly low mileage, serve us well, and neither of them insults our intelligence.

Sure, we have ABS and traction control (and my wife's vehicle has a rear-view camera, which would be handy if I could see it while wearing polarized sunglasses) but I can still control these. Besides, I've always felt that if the ABS or traction control comes on, then I'm not doing my job as a driver.

Some folks seem to agree: the first thing they did at my first advanced driving course was to pull the fuse that controlled the ABS, so we were braking on our own.

Anyway, this supposed trend by insurance companies to just write off cars that need all the nannies repaired or replaced is yet one more sign that today's vehicles have become far more complex – and expensive – than necessary. Yet I don't see this trend slowing down.

Some of it is undoubtedly free market competitive pressure ("anything you can do, I can do better!", to quote the great Irving Berlin), but some is government mandate forcing manufacturers to bow to their – usually socialist – will. It's unnecessary, annoying, expensive, and it lulls people into a false sense of security who should be concentrating on the arts and skills of driving.

Let's make all this stuff optional, up peoples' driving skills, and encourage those who have no interest in driving other than getting somewhere to take public transit.

How's that for a rant?

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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