Safety tech not a priority for buyers

Anthony Lineweaver, used car manager at Muhlenberg Ford in Woodstock, shows the backup camera display on a new Ford Edge in the parking lot of the Woodstock dealership. The backup camera is one of several safety features on new vehicles. Rich Cooley/Daily

With traffic deaths hovering around 33,000 every year, Dan McGehee says it is a “national health crisis” that he hopes to address by teaching people how safety technology works in cars.

However, there is concern whether new buyers care much about sophisticated safety systems designed to save lives.

Salesmen in three local dealerships agree on two things – new car buyers are concerned about price and crash ratings but not about the intricate workings of features such as anti-lock brakes, traction control or adaptive cruise control.

“I have seen salesmen spend two hours with a customer and not explain any safety features because the customer didn’t ask,” said Ken Cooper, who has been selling cars for 44 years. “This is stuff people need to know,” added Cooper, a sales and leasing professional at Malloy Toyota in Winchester.

Cooper and other car salesmen say making the sale often dominates a salesmen’s approach, rather than educating on car safety technology.

Hoping to develop interest, McGehee is in charge of a national website called MyCarDoesWhat.org for potential buyers to access before shopping so they will understand how safety technologies work.

There is a need for simple explanations, said McGehee, based on survey findings in a 2015 report that showed nearly half of those queried did not understand tire pressure monitoring systems and roughly two-thirds didn’t know what adaptive cruise control or a forward collision warning system does.

Toyota is backing the effort as the result of losing a lawsuit, allocating $17.2 million to the University of Iowa, where McGehee, is director of the Human Factors and Vehicle Research Division and working on the project with the National Safety Council.

Donn Fawley, who has been selling cars at Shenandoah Buick in Front Royal for 13 years, said it does the industry good when things are explained.

“But the new breed of car salespeople are inexperienced and looking for instant gratification,” Fawley said. “They are driven by the dollar.”

McGehee agrees, noting that salesmen often jump from dealership to dealership and often work in auto parks with different brands with different names for unexplained safety features.

But does the buying public care what the technology does?

Anthony Lineweaver has been selling cars at Muhlenberg Ford in Woodstock for nine years.  When shoppers enter the showroom, he said, “They look first at the size of the vehicle, gas mileage, want to know how it rides but price, that’s the big thing. They really aren’t so big on safety.”

Why is safety not explained?

“To be honest, because a salesman is looking for a quick sale,” said Cooper, “not trying to build value in a car.”

“He needs to go over safety with a fine tooth comb but if he gets too technical, he can lose the customer,” added Cooper, who said he believes discussing safety “adds value” to the car, but that most salesmen are unaware of how safety features work.

McGehee agrees.

“The shear number of technologies in vehicles today is pretty formidable and it is changing so quickly, salespeople don’t have a good understanding (of how they work). They are focused on sales.”

The survey found 94 percent of those surveyed had heard of cruise control but only a third had heard of adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set speed and distance from the vehicle ahead, and can accelerate or brake on its own.

It is considered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other experts to be a top-shelf safety feature but it comes with different names.

For example, it is called “closing vehicle sensing” by Land Rover, “dynamic radar cruise control” by Toyota, “Eyesight” by Subaru and “adaptive cruise control” by Chrysler.

Many salesmen are skeptical of its value and exactly how it works, and it can be controlled in different brands by radar, laser or camera.

“It requires education of salesmen,” said McGehee, who hopes buyers visiting the MyCarDoesWhat.org will learn what it does.

So far, the effort has generated 4 billion media impressions, said McGehee, with the next step finding ways to drive potential buyers to the website to be better informed during their shopping forays.

Safety Features

Lane Departure and Lane Keeping Systems – Warns you if you are driving out or your lane and may gently steer you back.

Terrain Management – Allows you to adjust your vehicle’s performance based on the road surface. Some cars may switch setting automatically.

Adaptive Headlights – Adapts to changing roadway conditions, such as curves, to better help illuminate the roadway ahead.

Automatic Emergency Braking – If a driver doesn’t take timely action, the braking system brakes intensely for you when a front-end crash is imminent.

Anti-Lock Braking System – By keeping the pulsating brake pedal firmly depressed, it allows you to steer as brakes readjust rapidly to keep from locking up.

Curve Speed Warning – Via GPS, this feature tracks a car’s speed and location, warning a driver to slow down when approaching curves and exits too fast.

Back-up Warnings and Rear Cameras – Allows you to see objects behind or possibly approaching from the side when backing up and may warn with sound or automatic braking.

Contact Tom Crosby at news@nvdaily.com.