About 15 years ago, I sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz S class sedan, facing a barrier that hung from beside a semi-truck about 50 feet away. The Mercedes engineer told me to accelerate toward the barrier at a reasonable speed and keep my foot off the brake pedal.
As the car got closer to the barrier, it set off warning alarms and tightened the seatbelts a little. As the gap closed, the alarms came faster and the belts tightened all the way while the luxury sedan lunged to a stop just a few feet from the hanging barrier. Had the automatic braking system failed, we would have driven through the barrier. But still it was a nerve-wracking ride.
Back then, the self-stopping car felt like magic. Today, many cars have advanced safety tech that’s keeping drivers safer. Remember the first backup camera you saw? A video screen in a car, what’s next?
Now backup cameras are mandated on every new car starting in 2018. Anti-lock brakes are another luxury car feature now found on all new cars.
Are these cars safer? In a word, yes. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new data that shows new model year vehicles are the safest on the road today.
“We encourage car buyers to select vehicles that meet their individual lifestyle, budget and transportation needs with the added assurance that they are making an investment in safety,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King.
NHTSA’s analysis looked at fatal crashes involving passenger cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks, and the data showed that a greater proportion of deaths among passengers in fatal crashes occurred within older model year vehicles, compared to new model year vehicles. As vehicle safety improvements become more widespread, this trend is expected to continue.
Car safety has come a long way. In the 1950s Volvos were known for their safety focus with padding on the metal dashboards and seat belts long before they were mandatory.
Today’s cars use a whole host of safety features that help you avoid crashes. Here’s a look at some of the technology you’ll find on 2019 model year cars.
Adaptive cruise control
If you’ve ever wanted a car with lasers or radar, this is your chance. These systems will use one or the other (or both) to keep a constant distance between your car and the car ahead of you when the cruise control is engaged. On most cars you can set your following distance to determine when the car will automatically begin to slow down.
If you get behind a slower car, you may find yourself traveling at a much lower speed than your cruise is set at. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s weird to find yourself traveling at 57 mph when the cruise control is set for 67 mph.
Automatic emergency braking
With this feature, brakes are automatically applied to avoid a collision or at least reduce the speed of impact, like my Mercedes experience. This is such a useful feature that it’s going to be required on nearly all cars and light trucks by 2022. It’s often bundled with forward collision warning systems as a part of a safety package.
Blind spot monitoring
Your car will alert you via a tone and a side mirror light if there’s a vehicle in the lane beside you that you can’t see. Some systems also alert you when you use your turn signal if there’s a car next to you. To get the most out of it, you’ll need to use your turn signals when changing lanes or turning so the warning tone or vibration will activate. This is now one of the most common new safety features found on nearly 75% of new cars.
Forward collision warning
When you come up behind a stopped or slowing vehicle, the system will alert you that a collision could happen. This system is a big help if you’re slogging through heavy traffic or dealing with distractions in your car. It’s the warning system for the automatic braking if your car is equipped with it.
Lane departure warning & lane keeping assist
Depending on the level of gizmos in your car, this system may give you a warning that you’re drifting out of your lane and help you steer back to the center. The warning system reads cues from the road, so it may go off when it gets confused by scuffed up white lines. On some systems like Toyota’s, using your turn signal to change lanes or turn lets the system know it’s a deliberate move so it won’t beep at you. It reinforces good driver behavior along the way.
Rear cross traffic alert
The system scans the area around your rear when the car is backing out of a parking space. Sensors will alert you if it detects a vehicle or another large obstruction like a wall. It works best when the object is moving, like a car traveling behind you.
These safety features are usually part of a larger convenience or technology option package, so you may not get to pick and choose which ones you want. Look for cars that have the features you’re interested in and keep in mind these safety features are available on cars, light trucks and SUVs of all price ranges.
Chevy rearview camera
Some rearview cameras show you a bird’s eye view of what’s around your car. Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.
Mercedes blind spot
The blind spot warning system in this Mercedes-Benz lets you know there’s a car in the lane next to you. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.
Rear mirror camera
The backup camera in this Chevrolet Traverse is displayed in the rearview mirror.
Photo courtesy of Chevrolet