It seems crazy that a car could literally keep you from crashing. Yet that’s exactly what some of the latest auto innovations are doing.
New crash avoidance features that reduce the frequency of accidents are here—and they’re gaining serious traction. “We’re looking at a future with fewer crashes if technology continues to evolve,” says Dave Zuby, chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Like power windows and antilock brakes before them, crash avoidance features typically come standard only in luxury cars. (You can get them as optional features in some common cars, but they’ll cost you between $1,000 and $3,000.) “As these systems become more widely available across more and more cars, their costs will come down,” says Zuby. “But it will take between 20 and 30 years before all cars on the road have them.”
Here are just a few of the technologies you can expect your future car to have. To see a full list of all the emerging crash avoidance technologies, check out iihs.org.
The Technology: Forward Collision Avoidance
What it does: Let’s say a daydreaming driver is quickly approaching a stopped car. With forward collision avoidance, the moving car’s sensors will detect the impending collision and sound an alarm or even apply the brakes. Some car models will tighten safety belts, close windows and adjust seat positions or head restraints when a crash is about to occur, which helps to reduce the likelihood of any injuries.
Who offers it: The warning and auto brake system is offered by several brands, including Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Toyota. The warning system alone is available in many other types of vehicles.
Its crash reduction factor: The IIHS reports that forward collision warning systems prevent about seven percent of crashes involving other vehicles; systems with auto braking prevent twice that number.
The Technology: Adaptive Headlights
What they do: Adaptive headlights respond to steering input to provide a brighter, wider beam of light when you’re rounding a dark curve.
Who offers it: Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Hyundai, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.
Its crash reduction factor: The IIHS reports that adaptive headlights can reduce crashes by as much as 10 percent.
The Technology: Lane Departure Warning and Prevention Systems
What they do: When drivers are distracted or tired, their cars will often drift into another lane and cause a crash. Lane departure warning and prevention systems use cameras to track the car’s position in a lane; when the driver crosses the lane markings sans a turn signal, the steering wheel or seat will vibrate or the car will issue audible or visual warnings. More advanced systems offer prevention systems that direct the vehicle back into the lane via light braking or steering modifications.
Who offers it: Auto makers offering just the warning system include Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, GMC and Hyundai. Infiniti, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota offer both the warning and prevention systems.
Its crash reduction factor: If roads are covered with snow or aren’t well marked, the lane departure warning system could have trouble registering the lane markings. That could be a factor keeping the feature from earning high marks so far.
The Technology: Blind Spot Detection
What it does: This technology monitors the side of the vehicle using sensors; when a vehicle approaches, a visual alert appears on the side view mirrors. If the driver signals a turn and there is a vehicle in the blind spot, the vehicle will make a noise or even assume control of the brakes and steering to keep the vehicle in its lane.
Who offers it: Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Infiniti, Jeep, Mazda, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Its crash reduction factor: Research isn’t showing the feature’s clear effects on crash patterns just yet.
Safety is Still Essential
It’s important to keep in mind that even the best crash avoidance features aren’t foolproof. “People should continue to drive safely and not rely on these technologies to keep them from crashing because they do have limitations and will not prevent all accidents,” warns Zuby. For that reason—along with the fact that risks posed by the weather, vandalism and fire remain as real as ever—auto insurance is still something you’ll need to have.
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