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Auto brakes get high grades, but do they earn a safety discount?

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CarInsurance.com

Brake pedalThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said this week that more than 20 percent of 2014 vehicles now have front crash-avoidance systems, with the BMW 5 Series and X5, the Hyundai Genesis and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class ranked the best in automatic braking tests.

The IIHS pointed out that automakers are "making strides" in adopting the advanced safety features -- twice as many cars and SUVs have them when compared to 2012. What's more, the latest round of tests shows that they do a good job protecting drivers and passengers.

While you may not get a car insurance discount yet for advanced safety features, carriers typically dole them out for more standard safety devices such as air bags and anti-lock brakes. These discounts are often applied to liability insurance coverage. Meanwhile, if you buy a car with high-tech crash avoidance systems, the overall safety of the car may be taken into account during the underwriting process, giving you a lower base premium.

"We know that this technology is helping drivers avoid crashes," David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, said in a written statement. "The advantage of auto-brake is that even in cases where a crash can't be avoided entirely, the system will reduce speed … and reduces injuries to people in those cars."

The BMWs, Hyundai and Mercedes models earned a "superior" rating (a 6 out of 6score) in tests evaluating their ability to avoid hitting an object at speeds of 12 and 25 mph. The tests also judged the effectiveness of the auto-brake system's visual and audible warnings that a crash was imminent.

Vehicles were deemed superior (scoring at least 5 out of 6points) if they could stop before a collision. An "advanced" rating (at least 2 points) was awarded to those that could either avoid a crash or greatly reduce speeds before a crash. A "basic" designation (1point) was given if a vehicle's braking and warning sensors detected an object and alerted the driver but still failed to reduce speed significantly.

In all, 24 cars and SUVs were tested. Here are the IIHS' ratings:

Superior

  • BMW 5 series (6 points)
  • BMW X5 (6)
  • Hyundai Genesis (6)
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class (6)
  • Buick Regal (5)
  • Cadillac CTS (5)
  • Cadillac XTS (5)
  • Chevrolet Impala (5)

Advanced

  • BMW 2 series (4)
  • Buick LaCrosse (4)
  • Lexus IS (4)
  • Audi A3 (3)
  • Audi A6 (3)
  • BMW 3 series (3)
  • BMW 5 series (3)
  • BMW X5 series (3)
  • Dodge Durango (3)
  • Lexus GS (3)
  • Mercedes-Benz CLA (3)
  • Infiniti QX50 (2)
  • Infiniti QX70 (2)

Basic

  • BMW 3 series (1)
  • Infiniti Q70 (1)
  • Toyota Avalon (1)

Front crash-avoidance systems tend to be optional in most cars, meaning you'll have to pay extra for them. They have various types of sensors, such as camera, radar or laser, which detect when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it. The systems use warning lights, chimes and sometimes vibration when there's a hazard. Many systems brake the vehicle autonomously if the driver doesn't respond.

High-tech safety features probably won't bring a car insurance discount

Advanced safeguards, such as front crash-avoidance systems that use auto-braking, may reduce accidents and save lives, but it's unlikely they'll snag an auto insurance discount.

Insurers claim it takes time to study a system's effectiveness and determine if there's an actuarial benefit to their business. Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute (III), says if a safety evolution is shown to reduce the number of crash claims, then insurers could eventually pass some of the lower costs to consumers.

But there's no telling when that will happen, if ever. But more standard safety features, like anti-lock brakes, currently do qualify for discounts with many insurers. Here are the more common ones:

  • Air bags -- Front air bags will get a discount; both dual front air bags and side air bags will nab an even bigger one. The discount is usually seen under your policy's medical payments and personal injury protection (PIP) section, and some insurers will also discount liability coverage.
  • Anti-lock brakes -- A handful of states, including Florida, New Jersey and New York, require an insurer to provide a discount. But many insurers will reward one anyway. The discount, typically about 5 percent, may be applied to your liability, PIP, medical payments and collision coverage.
  • Seat belts -- Automatic seat belts usually get a rate cut.
  • Crash-resistant doors -- Some insurers provide a 5 percent or less discount.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC) -- A few insurers have added a discount of about 5 percent when a vehicle comes with the factory-installed system.
  • Daytime running lights -- A 5 percent discount off your liability, PIP, medical payments and collision coverage may be offered.

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