Today, safety features like automatic braking, lane assist and blind spot detection are mostly reserved for luxury cars. But that could soon change.
Government regulators are proposing dramatic changes to national crash-test ratings, which for the first time would take into account so-called accident avoidance systems. Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are hoping the changes push carmakers to make new-age safety features standard equipment.
“NHTSA’s five-star safety ratings have set the bar on safety since [they] began in 1978, and today we are raising that bar,” Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said when the proposals were unveiled. The agency wants the rules to come into effect for the 2019 model year. If they do, manufacturers who want to land the NHTSA’s coveted five-star rating will have to include some of the following.
Forward Collision Warning
These systems are designed to make rear-end crashes—which account for one-third of all accidents, according to the NHTSA—a thing of the past. Using cameras, radar or lasers, they map the road ahead, keeping an eye out for cars, cyclists and pedestrians. An electronic “brain” processes the data, and if it thinks a collision is imminent, it warns the driver, usually with an alarm or flashing light.
These features are often an extension of forward collision warning systems, but they take things a step further. If a car senses a crash is imminent, it will automatically apply the brakes. The NHTSA says the technology will help prevent rear-end collisions and protect pedestrians, more than 4,800 of whom were killed in 2012 alone.
Blind Spot Detection
Like forward collision warning systems, blind spot detectors use cameras or radars to survey those tricky-to-see areas over a driver’s shoulders. If they detect a vehicle in the lane, they will notify the driver, either with a flashing light or a slight vibration in the steering wheel. Sophisticated systems will even gently guide the car back into its lane.
Automatic High Beams
While high beams are great for seeing long distances at night, they can blind oncoming drivers, leading to accidents. Auto high beam systems use special sensors to detect far off headlights, then dial back your high beams when an oncoming vehicle nears.
Lane Departure Warning
About 40 percent of all fatal crashes begin with drivers drifting out of their lane, says the NHTSA. These systems help prevent that by using cameras to track lane markings. When a car is about to pass over one, the system notifies the driver, usually with a beep, a slight vibration in the steering wheel or a flashing light on the dashboard.
Cars may be getting safer, but it’s important to keep your driving skills sharp, too. If you need a refresher, take a few tips from our Defensive Driving in Heavy Traffic story.
By Andrew Raven