If you are out shopping for a new automobile, here are a few safety features you should request. Not all cars have them.
1. Forward Collision Warning. Cars equipped with this have cameras attached to the front. Those cameras connect to a computer that constantly compares the road ahead to what should be there. If a foreign object appears in view, it will beep or chime, commanding the driver to pay close attention. Most often, it is another car that has slowed or braked in the car’s path.
2. Automatic Emergency Braking. This feature usually leaves the factory paired with the Forward Collision Warning system. If the driver fails to respond to the warning, the computer will autonomously apply constant pressure to the brakes until the car stops. The computer estimates the distance and speed, so it has enough time to react.
I am alive, or at least uninjured, because of this technology. I stopped in heavy traffic on the freeway when a distracted driver came around a corner at approximately 70 mph. I watched in the rearview mirror in horror as the car aimed straight for me, but the driver’s eyes were looking down at something (most likely a cell phone). To my surprise, the car braked all on its own and stopped just a few feet from my bumper. The driver looked up in total shock. To me, this is an essential feature that should come installed in all vehicles. It may not prevent all crashes, but can certainly reduce the severity of the impact.
3. Rearview cameras. Avoid back-over accidents by watching the dashboard screen for objects, people, or animals that might be in your path. Some vehicles come equipped with sensors in the back connected to the dashboard computer that gives out a warning signal, much like the Forward Collision Warning system.
4. Electronic Stability Control. This feature effectively keeps the driver from over-correcting when facing an object that has entered the roadway. Let’s say a deer or child on a bicycle has come into your path, and you swerve to avoid hitting them. When you have expertly missed them, the body often jerks the wheel beyond what it thinks the position was before the event. The onboard computer senses the change and signals the wheels to either release or brake to compensate for the over-correction or to prevent it from happening.
5. Blind Spot Warning. Cameras in the side of the vehicle ‘see’ the adjacent occupied lane. The system will give the driver a visible warning, usually in the side-view mirror coupled with an audible alarm. This feature helps prevent collision with another car that is in the lane the driver wants to take.
Bonus features to consider. I promised you five safety features, but a few more are worth mentioning if available.
Brake Assist is similar to or a part of the Emergency Braking System. It avoids panic-braking. When you encounter a dangerous situation in the roadway ahead, the computer will ‘assist’ the driver in applying the brakes. Lane Departure Warning systems alert the driver that the automobile has drifted out of its travel lane and might leave the roadway or collide with another car or guardrail. Lane Keeping Assist is similar in that it will not just warn the driver but will automatically turn the wheel, bringing the vehicle back into its lane. A Driver Inattention Monitor is nothing more than a camera somewhere in the dashboard area that watches the driver’s eye movements to be sure they stay on the road ahead. If the driver looks away too long, say at a smartphone or some other distraction inside the car or out, a warning alarm will sound, hopefully drawing the driver’s attention back. This feature is also practical if the driver nods off to sleep. Some vehicles come equipped with Automatic Crash Notification, which senses a crash and calls 911 automatically, transmitting the coordinates of the accident location. Some systems will patch a live person to a speaker and microphone in the car to talk to the driver or passengers.
There you have it. My top favorite new features and a few others to help if they are available.