Automated vehicle technologies vary from simple alerts to partially automated driving tasks that are increasingly available in today’s vehicles. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) seek to alert a driver to critical events (e.g., forward collision warning) or even intervene (e.g., emergency braking, lane-keeping steering) to prevent crashes (NHTSA n.d.); however, they are not available equally across the passenger vehicle fleet (Voelk 2020). Forward collision warning systems and blind spot detection are highly effective when used properly and can reduce crashes by 20-30 percent for forward collision warning and as much as 50 percent with automatic emergency braking (Cicchino 2017). These systems also increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists (Combs et al. 2019), who are at particular risk from larger vehicles like SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks (Hu and Cicchino 2018).
Despite evidence for significant safety gains from assistance technologies (Furlan et al. 2020; Wang et al. 2020), only automatic emergency braking (AEB) has recently received regulatory attention as a mandated technology (LaForest 2022). So far, however, AEB remains a voluntary technology that is rated but not required in New Car Assessment Programs (NCAP) in the US, Europe, and Asia (Euro NCAP n.d.; Japan NCAP n.d.; NHTSA n.d.). ADAS features are named, packaged, and offered differently by each manufacturer (NHTSA 2021) and not necessarily emphasized for safety. For example, Ford’s description of their Co-Pilot 360 Ford Driver Assist Technologies: “In an increasingly crowded and distracted world, we can all use more confidence on the road. Introducing a suite of features to help keep you in command, from the driveway to the highway” (Ford Motor Company n.d.)
Several journalists have drawn attention to the issue of ADAS pricing or disparate availability (Atiyeh 2016; Preston 2020; Zipper 2020), but this study directly examines how ADAS availability varies by model and trim on the most popular vehicles. We conducted an inventory of the top selling models in the United States to determine the presence of blind spot detection (BSD), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and forward collision warning (FCW) by vehicle type, model, and trim package.
We collected data for the ten of the largest US, Asian, and European automakers and their top five selling models in the United States, including each major body type and their trim levels for model year 2021 (Table 1). Two of the three US manufacturers did not have a car in their top five selling models, while six of the seven largest international automakers either do not have a truck in their top-selling models or do not offer a truck.
We created an inventory of the following variables: body type (car, SUV, truck, van); trim level (e.g., base model, upgraded trims); cost (manufacturer’s suggested retail price), and three common advanced driver assistance systems: blind spot detection (BSD), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and forward collision warning (FCW). Each model is available with different “trims,” which refers to the different versions of a model, where “higher” trim levels include additional convenience, aesthetic, safety, and functional equipment in a variety of bundled packages. The final sample resulted in 290 combinations of make, model, vehicle type, and trim (Table 2).
Costs of ADAS by vehicle type and automaker
For every body type, the availability of each of the three safety-related features significantly increased the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) (Figure 1).
Cost differences were also correlated with automaker. The MSRP of the top-selling international vehicles (M=$35,560, SD=$13,470) were significantly lower than US vehicles (M=$44,260, SD=$13,460), (F(1,296)=27.7, p<.001). This corresponds to the top selling US models being more likely to be larger, more expensive vehicle types than the international models (Χ2(3)=53.66, p<.001).
ADAS by body type, trim level, and US versus international automaker
One-fifth to one-quarter of the top-selling model/trim combinations of all body types did not have forward collision warning or automatic emergency breaking equipped. Although the difference was not statistically significant between body types, SUVs were less likely than cars or trucks to have either crash-avoidance feature (Figure 2).
The top-selling vehicles from international automakers were significantly more likely than vehicles from the US automaker companies to have forward collision warning (Figure 3). This was largely driven by the difference in SUVs, where 80 percent of international models had FCW available, while only 65 percent of top-selling US SUVs had that feature. One hundred percent of the international truck model/trim combinations (n=20) had AEB and FCW, versus US trucks in the sample (n=31), of which only 58 percent had AEB, and 68 percent had FCW.
As trim level is an ordinal variable, we used a Kruskal-Wallis H test (i.e., ANOVA on ranks), which showed each ADAS feature was significantly more likely on a higher trim level (BSD Χ2(1) =40.98, p<.001); AEB Χ2(1) =5.36, p=.021; FCW Χ2(1) =4.97, p=.026). It was not possible to find reliable, uniform data on the precise price differences between trim levels for each model; for the models in this study, trim packages that included one or more ADAS ranged from $750-$2295 USD. Because MSRP increases with trim level and ADAS are more likely to occur on higher trims, these safety technologies add to the cost of a vehicle for the consumer.
Because ADAS is more likely to be present on more expensive trim packages of new cars, consumers may be literally priced out of safety-related assistance technologies and their potential life-saving benefits. Even consumers who might be able to afford the additional expense to opt into these technologies may not choose to, if those technologies are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity or are packaged with unwanted upgrades, thus limiting their widespread consumer use and potential for wide-reaching safety improvements. The continuing popularity and increased danger posed by larger vehicles like SUVs warrants particular attention to increase the presence of these crash-avoidance technologies.
Support for this research was provided in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, University Transportation Centers Program to the Safety through Disruption University Transportation Center (69A3551747115). CRediT author statement: Tara Goddard: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Writing-original draft preparation, Writing - Review & Editing, Supervision, Project administration, Funding acquisition. Anthony McDonald: Methodology, Formal analysis, Writing - Review & Editing, Supervision. Ran Wei: Investigation/Data collection, Supervision. Divij Batra: Investigation/Data collection, Formal analysis.