Drivers with a lead foot are more likely to trade their old vehicle in on one offering a full complement of air bags and anti-lock brakes.
Wise choice, you say? Bags protect in an accident that ABS can prevent in the first place.
Maybe not, says Fred Mannering, a professor of civil engineering and associate director for research at the Center for the Advancement of Transportation Safety at Purdue University.
Those drivers are more likely to drive as fast, if not faster, and take as many, if not more, risks as they did in cars without air bags or ABS.
For these motorists, the safety technology has taken the place of the St. Christopher medal in providing a feeling of invulnerability. That's the finding of a study by Mannering.
"Consumers adapt to innovations meant to improve safety by becoming less vigilant about safety," he said. "The person who may travel at 40 m.p.h. in order to stop safely in 150 feet now goes 48 m.p.h. And air bags help when you run into a wall at 40 m.p.h., not at 80 m.p.h."
The study concluded that accidents and injuries haven't gone down as the availability of air bags and ABS has gone up. That mirrors what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found in its own recent study.
But Mannering points out that his study differs from the government's in that NHTSA compared the number of accidents and injuries before and after air bags and ABS became the norm, while his focused on accidents and injuries to motorists before and after they switched to cars with air bags and ABS.
"With all the safety features added to cars, fatality rates should go down, but the rate has been flat for years and NHTSA reported the fatality rate in 2005 rose 1.4 percent over 2004, the first increase since 1986," Mannering said.
The government last month proposed legislation requiring automakers to phase in stability control systems, starting in 2009 and offer them in all their vehicles by 2012.
NHTSA estimates the system could save 10,000 lives annually--but not without an attitude adjustment by drivers. They must shed the belief that regardless of what mistakes they make, their car will save them