Speaking at an international conference, Thatcham Research, the insurance companies' technology centre, said that insurance premiums could be lowered for cars fitted with systems that automatically brake the car at speeds up to 18 mph.
Such systems, currently available on some Fords, Volvos and Range Rovers amongst others, appear to cut insurance claims by up to 25%. The idea is that if the car detects an obstacle (e.g. a wall, another car or even a pedestrian) and calculates that the driver has not braked in time, the car will automatically perform an emergency stop.
They have been available for a little over a year now, so this is the first time that insurance companies have been able to tell if they make a difference. The evidence quoted at the UK conference echoes a US government study that came to almost exactly the same conclusion.
We have tested the system on a couple of cars and it is uncannily good. If you drive up to a hedge (we thought that would be solid, but not too solid) with the accelerator pressed down, it feels like a giant hand has just come down and stopped the car dead in its tracks.