Skip to main content

A survey conducted by the analytics firm Leger shows that drivers in Quebec (35 per cent) and Alberta (34 per cent) were more knowledgeable about their car's safety features than drivers in Ontario (27 per cent), and B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan (each at 24 per cent).CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Do you know all of your car’s safety features, or how they work? If you don’t, then you may not be alone.

In a survey conducted by analytics firm Leger and commissioned by insurance company Allstate, only 29 per cent of Canadian vehicle owners knew exactly what all of their car’s safety features did.

The results showed that drivers in Quebec (35 per cent) and Alberta (34 per cent) were more knowledgeable than drivers in Ontario (27 per cent), and B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan (each at 24 per cent). The survey also found that eight per cent respondents disabled their safety features before they started their drive, with 60 per cent doing so out of annoyance, and 21 per cent saying that they didn’t trust the feature. Of the admittedly already small number, 16 per cent of respondents even said driver assist warnings were a distraction and hindered their driving.

As vehicles continue to evolve from a technological standpoint, safety features have become increasingly complicated. Technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and parking assist now join features like anti-lock braking, adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning, which have become standard in many makes and models. The result is that new vehicles now come with increasingly more buttons, selections or driving modes than they ever did before.

“If consumers are going to the dealer and not understanding it, or lacking an explanation to help them get it, then that’s going to generate some concern because we need everybody to take part in helping drivers be safer on the road,” says Carmine Venditti, Allstate Canada’s road safety expert.

The survey didn’t indicate why some provinces had higher knowledge than others, or whether some safety features were more misunderstood than other. The survey also didn’t delve into the buying process with feedback over how respondents felt about how much they learned from dealers or auto makers when buying a vehicle.

For its part, the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) says its members always ensure their customers know about the safety features of the vehicles they purchase.

“Safety is of the utmost importance for franchised new-vehicle dealers and our members always ensure that customers are aware of the safety features in the vehicles they purchase. Common practices include a review of the safety features during a test drive and a thorough step-by-step review at pickup or delivery of the vehicle,” the organization said in an e-mail statement.

Automotive manufacturers have cumulatively spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, in the last decade to develop safety features, though it’s not entirely clear how well dealers interpret and demo those features to their customers.

Amir Khajepour, professor and Canada research chair in mechatronic vehicle systems at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, says that the key to these features is to make them user-friendly, especially because they work while a vehicle is in motion.

“One of the things to my mind when it comes to accidents is if people say, ‘it’s not going to happen to me, so let’s turn it off,’” says Khajepour. “To me, the interface is going to be the most important part of these features but some car manufacturers are in a learning period on how to do it right,” he adds. “And if you look at one model to the next, the interface may change. There are multiple reasons why drivers may not get it, but it also really matters if they feel these features were made for others, and not themselves.”

Khajepour also highlighted cases where safety warnings may lead to opposite reactions in drivers than what was intended.

Much like a passenger airbag might have a light indicating whether it’s on or off, a forward collision or blind spot warning could also have lights that turn on or off. These lights and warning interfaces may frustrate drivers if they either don’t know what they do, or don’t trust the signals to be accurate.

“If you have the experience of suddenly seeing a warning system come up and wondering why, false positives could make people lose their trust in the feature,” he says. “A driver who is fully alert might not see the point of using it, and that may be a reason why acceptance isn’t all that high.”

Shopping for a new car? Check out the Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct