Best New Car Safety Features of 2015

We've all seen the reports about Google working hard to create a user-friendly, safe, self-driving car. Although they're still years away from becoming affordable and readily available in the market place, some of their technology has been available on mainstream vehicles.

Technology such as back-up cameras and crash-avoidance systems will allow a car to "become aware" of pedestrians or other vehicles before they're in the driver's view. These computer systems will anticipate (at a much faster pace) some types of collisions by automatically applying the brakes to avoid a crash and even prevent you from crossing lanes into oncoming traffic.

Luxury vehicles have been equipped with features, such as forward-collision warning systems for a few years now. This type of safety feature is just starting to make its appearance on mainstream conventional vehicles.

1,700,000
Estimated rear-end collisions annually.

As of 2015, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has recognized the life saving possibilities of crash-avoidance systems. Vehicles must have an automatic braking system, front-crash warning system, and excel in crash tests to be classified as an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus. In addition, the "autobrake" feature must function correctly in IIHS formal track tests to qualify.

The good news is, the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into making many of these safety features mandatory. These systems don't yet influence the Administration's 5-Star Safety Ratings, but they most likely will in the future.

As you can guess, many of these safety features come only on vehicles with higher trim levels or additional option packages. Cost can be an issue, but if you can afford it, it's definitely worth the extra money.

How Crash-Avoidance Systems Work?

Consumer Reports did a study on various crash-avoidance systems. In their tests, they found there's a fine line between helpful and backseat driver. If a system constantly provides false or inappropriate alerts, the driver will just end up shutting off or disabling the system, making as useless as not having it in the first place.

Crash-avoidance systems use various lasers, sensors, cameras, short and long range radar, or a combination of all the above. Computers monitor what's going on around the vehicle at all times, when appropriate, the system will prompt some kind of action from the driver and / or the vehicle.

Some of these actions may be "attention-grabbers" such as a flashing light or beep. Some may even be a vibration in the seat, steering wheel, or a tug on the seatbelt. Some "high-tech" systems will even apply partial or full braking if a collision is imminent and the driver does not respond.

According to the NHTSA Estimates
204,000 injuries and 100 fatalities could have been prevented by forward-crash-avoidance technologies.

David Zuby, Chief research officer at IIHS states “Even in the cases where these systems failed to prevent a crash, if there’s automatic braking going on, or if the driver does brake in response to a warning, that crash is going to be less severe than it would have been otherwise.”

The bottom line is, the technology is not perfect. Road dirt, grime, and weather can block cameras and radar. However, crash-avoidance systems can and have prevented a lot of collisions from happening. But even with all these additional safety features, the number one thing we need to do as drivers is, STAY ALERT.

Best New Car Safety Features for 2015

Some vehicles come with crash avoidance systems and some do not. Consumer Reports did a recent study to find out which ones you should look for and which ones you can live without.

1) Drowsiness Detection

This technology determines whether the driver of the vehicle is beginning to get tired or fall asleep. These alerts may be by a tap on the brakes, tug on the shoulder belt, audible chime or a cup-of-coffee icon on the instrument panel. This tech is still in the "new" phase, CR did not experience any problems with the systems they tested.

Drowsy detection may also prevent drivers from looking down to check email or text and also detect if your wandering back and forth in your lane.

2) Rear Mounted Camera

Rear view cameras help prevent back-over collisions, such as running over an object or small child playing behind a vehicle. Rear camera technology (back-up cameras) will become mandatory in May 2018.

Rear view cameras are great for lining up trailers or backing into tight spaces. They're a "must-have" on pickups and SUVs, which have very large blind spots behind them.

3) Adaptive Headlights

Adaptive headlights illuminate the road while going around turns and corners. They swivel and react as you turn the steering wheel. In 2014, the IIHS found that adaptive headlights improved a driver's reaction time by a third of a second.

There are mixed feelings about headlight technology, the wider illumination can be helpful, but the motion of the lights can be distracting...Especially if the swivel and the steering is not synchronized perfectly.

4) Rear Cross Traffic

This system uses radar sensors mounted on the sides of the rear bumper. When the vehicle is in reverse, the system can tell you of approaching collisions from the sides. More advanced systems can alert you of pedestrians, shopping carts, bicycles passing towards the rear of your vehicle.

The bottom line, rear cross traffic radars is an excellent safety technology to have installed on your vehicle.

5) Pedestrian Detection and Braking

This technology can detect and recognize a person entering into the vehicle's path, some systems will even automatically apply the brakes, partially or bring the vehicle to a complete stop. This tech was invented by Volvo and is now be offered by other automakers. Some of the more advanced systems can also recognize bicyclist.

Pedestrian detection and braking is a great safety feature to have especially if you live in an area with a high populous.

6) Forward-Collision Warning (FCW) and Autobrake

These systems are also called "Precrash-Mitigation Systems." They may use stand-alone or a combination of laser, radar, or cameras to look ahead and warn drivers of an approaching accident by an audible, visual or physical cue. If the driver ignores the warnings, some of these systems will automatically apply the brakes or take other steps to prepare for impact. Some of the more advanced systems will respond anywhere from highway to walking speeds.

If you're looking for a vehicle with FCW, look into the systems that will allow you to adjust your follow distance.

7) Lane-Departure Warning (LDW) and Steering Assist

Most LDW systems use cameras to look for lane makers and monitor where you're at in your lane. If you start to stray over the line without signaling, you'll feel a vibration in the steering wheel, seat or hear an audible warning tone. More advanced systems, called "Lane-Keeping-Assist" (LKA), will apply the brakes or slightly nudge the steering wheel to get you to adjust back over into your lane if your wandering.

LDW systems tend to be more useful on highways than on winding, tight country roads, where they tend to warn you too often. CR also prefers the systems that make corrections by alerting you through the steering wheel and not the brake system.

8) Blind Spot Monitoring and Assist

This type of technology uses cameras or radars to look (scan) the areas you can't easily see behind and beside you. The system looks for vehicles lurking or entering your blind zones. When a vehicle is detected, an icon is illuminated in or near the appropriate side-view mirror.

If signaling while a vehicle is in your blind spot, some systems will send a louder or stronger alert, such as a louder audible tone or blinking light. Newer, more advance systems will help keep you from changing lanes by applying the brakes on the appropriate side of the vehicle.

Blind spot monitoring systems are a great safety feature and tend to be very helpful for drivers.

If you're considering the purchase of a new car, truck, minivan, or SUV. As always, I recommend using a free online referral service such as Edmunds and TrueCar to guarantee you pay the lowest price. These services will tell you what others are paying for the vehicle you're considering in your local area and which dealers give the greatest discounts.