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Why you need a car with advanced safety features

Smart car with radar signal system and and wireless communication Photo by Akarat Phasura/stock.adobe.com

When you buy your next car, make sure it’s equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control. Why? Because they could save your life by preventing or reducing the effects of a crash. At the very least, ADAS can save you from having to rearrange your car’s damaged bodywork. These safety systems can also make the task of driving a less-stressful experience.

The above statements aren’t mere opinion or conjecture. They’re supported by studies from the Auto Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Real-world data demonstrate that ADAS effectively reduce the number of car crashes or minimize their severity and, as a result, lower the number of deaths and injuries on the highway. Simply put, ADAS take automotive safety to a whole new level.

ADAS have been around for about a decade, and they’re showing up on more vehicles every year. ADAS use cameras, radar, sonar, and various types of sensors to “see” what’s happening on the road, process the information, and respond appropriately by braking, accelerating, or steering your car—often more quickly and accurately than you could. These advanced safety systems either keep you from making an error (like rear-ending the car in front of you) or minimize the effects of mistakes you’ve already made (such as leaving a toddler or pet unattended in the backseat). Most, if not all, advanced safety features can be turned off or overridden by driver input.

Automakers are continuously improving their advanced safety systems and developing new ones, and many automakers include a wide range of safety features as standard equipment on most of their cars and light trucks. But take heed: With some vehicles—notably pickups, sporty cars, and exotics—advanced safety features are often optional or unavailable.

 

12 safety features found in cars:

The following are some of the most important and popular safety features currently available.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) detects an imminent crash, and if you fail to take sufficient action, it engages the brakes, preventing a collision or mitigating its effects. Two-thirds of drivers surveyed by AAA said they wanted AEB on their next vehicle. Virtually all automakers have committed to making AEB standard on their vehicles by 2022.

Forward-collision warning (FCW), similar to automatic emergency braking, lets you know of an impending crash with a car ahead of you but doesn’t apply the brakes to prevent a crash. The IIHS says automatic emergency braking reduces rear-end collisions by half, whereas forward-collision warning reduces them only by a third.

Adaptive cruise control is especially helpful when you’re slogging through heavy traffic. It monitors vehicles in front of you and automatically adjusts your car’s speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. Some systems bring a car to a complete stop if traffic comes to a halt.

Reverse automatic emergency braking (RAEB) applies the brakes if you’re backing up and fail to notice a possible collision with another vehicle, person, or object approaching from the rear or side. Reverse automatic emergency braking either prevents the collision or mitigates its effects; 63 percent of drivers surveyed want RAEB on their next vehicle, according to a AAA survey.

Rear cross-traffic warning (RCTW) is similar to reverse automatic emergency braking; it warns drivers but does not brake the vehicle.

Blind-spot warning (BSW), usually linked to rear cross-traffic warning, alerts you to vehicles immediately on either side of your vehicle, typically with a small flashing symbol in the side mirror, and sometimes an audible warning, so that you don’t accidentally move into an occupied lane. However, you should still check your mirrors even if you don’t see a flashing symbol or hear a warning, because a vehicle might be moving up beside you fast.

Lane-keeping assistance (LKA) lets you know when your vehicle is drifting out of its lane and gently guides it back. Lane-keeping assistance is not a self-steering feature; if you take your hands off the wheel for, say, more than 10 seconds, most LKA systems alert you to regrip it. Sixty-one percent of drivers surveyed by AAA wanted lane-keeping assistance on their next vehicle.

Lane-departure warning, similar to lane-keeping assistance, warns you that you’re drifting from your lane but doesn’t take corrective action.

Driver-monitoring systems keep track of eye and head movements and driving behavior that indicate a driver might be drowsy or distracted. If the system senses a possible problem, it issues a visual or audible alert telling you to pull over and get some rest or to keep your eyes on the road.

Parking-assistance sensors beep if you get too close to a wall, a post, or another car when pulling into a parking space or backing out of a garage, hopefully saving you from minor dings or dents in your bumpers.

Rear-seat reminder alerts you, when you exit your car, of a possible unattended child or pet in the vehicle’s second or third row.

Active parking assistance locates a parking spot and executes many of the steering, accelerating, and braking functions needed to park your car. The system also helps you exit from tight parallel parking spots.

 

Two other “medium-tech” safety features are worth mentioning:

Automatic high beams improve your visibility at night, especially on unlit rural roads. With auto high beams, the high-beam setting is on all the time; the system switches back to low beams automatically when high beams could create glare for other drivers.

Rearview cameras have been required equipment on all new cars since 2018; some fancier variants, such as Nissan’s 360-degree Around View Monitor, can show objects or small children not only behind the car but next to its front and sides.

 

What are the downsides to advanced safety features?

These two are worth noting: First, some systems don’t perform exactly as advertised or perform inconsistently, so you need to do research on a safety system before purchasing a vehicle. For example, an automatic emergency braking system might be too aggressive, responding when there’s no real threat, or a blind-spot warning system might be late letting you know about vehicles that have entered your car’s blind spots.

A second downside is that it’s almost certain to cost more to repair a vehicle with advanced driver-assistance systems after a collision because of the need to replace technology such as cameras and sensors. According to a AAA study, a minor front or rear collision involving a car with ADAS technology could cost more than twice as much to repair—as high as $5,300, versus $2,300—as a car without it. Repairs to cars with advanced driver-assistance systems also may take more time, because the safety systems often require resetting and calibrating—another good reason to drive with extra care in the first place.

Read more: What's the real cost of advanced car safety features?

 

No substitute for careful driving

In sum, regardless of which safety features your car has, it’s important to remember a few things: First, safety systems vary from automaker to automaker, and you need to know what a safety feature on your car is intended to do—and not do. Second, safety systems work properly only if you understand how they function and then use them appropriately.

Most automakers’ systems work reasonably well, but some work better than others, and none functions perfectly all the time. No advanced safety feature is meant to drive a car for you, and none is a substitute for safe, alert driving on your part.

Veteran automotive journalist Peter Bohr has been writing about cars for more than four decades. Contributing editor John Lehrer is the author of the 2021 AAA Car Guide, available at your local branch or online at AAA.com.

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