At Quoted, we love to talk about buying cars: from how to pay for them, to comparing the safety of different types of vehicles, and even fun ways to have both form and function, we’ve covered a lot of ground. But because a recent survey by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center’s Transportation and Vehicle Safety program found that most drivers are unaware of the latest active safety technology in new cars, we thought we’d round up some of the most common ones and explain them here, so those in the market for a new vehicle (and those who just love to look) can be well-prepared.
As Forbes reports, there exists no industry-wide standardized dictionary of safety features. Though many features may be similar across several companies, they are usually known by brand-specific terms, which of course complicates consumer understanding. For example, Forbes reports that, “Mercedes-Benz calls its adaptive cruise system Distronic Plus, while BMW calls it Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go.” The AP reports that similar features sometimes work a little differently: “Some will automatically steer drivers back into their lane if they leave it, for example, while others just give them a warning.” Our list will attempt to detail the latest technology without getting into the terminology of specific brands, much like the new website created by the University of Iowa and the National Safety Council, called mycardoeswhat.org.
The Latest and Greatest:
My Car Does What explains, “Forward collision warning scans the road ahead while you drive. It’s designed to warn you if you’re about to crash into a slower moving or stopped car.” Some systems can even detect other objects, but you’ll have to read specific safety manuals to find out what, and under which conditions. Sensors, usually camera- or radar-based, in the front of the vehicle monitor how close your car is to cars in front of you and warns of danger by using “sounds, visuals, vibrations or a quick brake pulse; or, a mix of warnings.”
Usually paired with Forward Collision Alert systems, this feature will apply the brakes if a driver doesn’t respond in time to an imminent crash. The feature will either slow the car down or stop it completely, depending on conditions.
The AP reports that, according to the survey, only 55 percent of respondents knew what a Tire Pressure Monitoring System was, even though they’ve been mandated, industry-wide, since 2007. So what is a TPMS? The AP says, “The systems alert drivers, usually with a dashboard message, when one of their tires is underinflated.” The system will also alert the driver if a tire is overinflated. Though this feature might sound like one of those things that your eyes could do just as well, it’s difficult to tell if a tire has lost pressure until it’s over 50 percent deflated, and improperly inflated tires can cause blowouts, as well as making steering and braking more difficult. If a car is model-year 2007 or later, it’ll have a TPMS, standard.
Forbes reports that only about one third of those surveyed knew about adaptive cruise control, even though its been a common safety feature for years. The system, “can maintain a set distance from a vehicle ahead – and resume cruising speed once the car is clear of the slower moving vehicle ahead – without pedal input from the driver.”
The AP reports that this feature, “Gives an audible warning or vibrates to warn drivers when the car leaves its lane,” which can prevent a crash. It won’t work on unpaved roads, or if the road is covered with debris (like snow, fog, or leaves), but as far as active safety features go, this is one of the best. Some cars will even help steer you back into the center of your lane.
My Car Does What explains that this feature works best during highway driving, and “This feature will warn you if a car … is in your left or right blind spot. Warnings will appear in your sideview mirrors or in the windshield frame. Some advanced versions of this feature may give you an audible warning (or other type of warning) if you use your turn signal and there is a vehicle in your blind spot.” Some systems can’t detect motorcycles, bicycles, or pedestrians, so if you have a system like this, be aware of its limitations.
You’ll still need to look over your shoulder (and check all possible blind spots) before making a lane change, but the blind spot monitor is an important back up system.
Check out more of the latest technology at mycardoeswhat.org. The federal government sponsors an auto-safety website, safecar.gov, and The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also explains the latest in important safety features.
If many of the latest active safety features sound to you like the first step in driverless vehicles, you’re not alone. And though some old school car buffs (like our Dad, for one) might balk at the loss of autonomy, the truth is over 90 percent of crashes involve driver error, and these features are already saving countless lives.