Shoppers in the market for a new car can consider a dizzying array of electronic options. The possibilities include everything from video and fancy sound systems to safety features designed to help drivers avoid hazards.

Yet among American consumers, safety options appear to be taking a back seat to the infotainment gizmos. At least that was the conclusion of a recent nationwide survey of 1,000 drivers conducted for Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

It found that while Americans say they care about safety features, many aren’t willing to pay extra for them. For instance, even though electronic stability control is one of the most significant safety advancements in recent years — it helps improve steering and prevent rollover accidents — only 34 percent of those surveyed indicated that they would spend more to get it.

A big part of the problem is that people appear to be far more familiar with options offering “convenience” or diversion than those promising greater safety. Almost one out of three of the survey respondents said they had never heard of electronic stability control, while only 42 percent said were very or somewhat familiar with the feature.

Officials of the insurance company, also known as Metlife, said they hoped to educate consumers about the benefits of the safety options, some of which are not widely available now but could become standard equipment in the future. Electronic stability control is ahead of the pack on that point — on Sept. 1 it became a standard feature on all new passenger cars sold in the U.S.

Just this week, as Motor Trend reports, Nissan announced several upcoming safety features, including a new generation of backup cameras that detect motion behind the vehicle.

Yet as FairWarning reported last month, auto companies are seeking to pump up sales by packing their new models with cutting-edge infotainment systems that encourage multi-tasking behind the wheel — even as they work to portray themselves as leaders in the fight against distracted driving.

Among the survey’s findings:

  •  90 percent of respondents were either very or somewhat familiar with GPS devices, which can make it easier to find your destination, but also take your attention off the road.
  • 77 percent were either very or somewhat familiar with Bluetooth-style accessories, which can make taking calls in your car easier but, many experts say, the conversations still can be very distracting.
  • 27 percent were very or somewhat familiar with in-car social networking technology, a relatively recent feature in certain car models. The figure increased to 40 percent among younger drivers ages 18 to 34.

In contrast, fewer than half of those surveyed reported that they were very or somewhat familiar with key safety technologies, including features available for several years. For example:

  • 44 percent were very or somewhat familiar with brake assist, which applies additional brake force in the event of a sudden stop.
  • 43 percent were very or somewhat familiar with forward collision warning, which alerts the driver when sensors detect an imminent front-end smash.
  • 28 percent were very or somewhat familiar with the lane departure warning feature, which warns drivers when they drift out of the designated lane on a highway.

One explanation for the discrepancy is that many of the newest safety features come only on select models, aren’t widely advertised and can be bought only through car dealers, and not in the auto aftermarket.

ROBERT T. NELSON

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