Top 8 High-Tech Car Safety Features

February 12, 2014

Ever wonder why it seems like nobody else can drive properly? You may have a point.  There are many ways a driver can put himself and others in danger. Driving drunk, driving distracted, driving aggressively, driving like my grandmother – all of these terrible   driving decisions  are dangerous, all of them are easily preventable, and the automotive industry is doing its best to protect you from all of them.

Every year there’s a new feature that claims to make theirs the safest car ever – and that may be a valid claim.  But for every light or alarm that your new car has, there are thousands of people who won’t use their turn signals or are checking Facebook at 70 miles an hour.  While there is no substitute for responsible, attentive driving here are some features your new car may have to keep you a little safer.

Current car safety options

There are countless ways the automotive industry is trying to keep you (and those around you) safe while you’re on the road.  This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good sampling of what’s out there.

Periphery sensors – In case you’re the kind of person who forgets to check your blind spot sometimes, this bit of tech will do it for you, and will alert you with a light, sound, or steering wheel vibration if you’re about to merge into another car.  Many models come with this feature standard; there are also several aftermarket kits you can get to give yourself the luxury of never having to turn your head.

Backup Camera Display

Backup cameras – More and more cars come standard with rear-facing cameras that not only assist in parallel parking (something everyone can use, trust us) but also ensure that you aren’t going to run into or over anything on your way out of your parking spot.

Driver alertness monitors – I recently had a Mercedes rental car and had no idea why there was an icon of a cup of coffee on my dashboard.  Turns out it’s their driver alertness system. This monitors factors like overcorrecting, slow reaction time, time of day, length of time you’ve been behind the wheel, and how active you’ve been (have you hit any buttons lately?)   If the system believes you’re getting drowsy, the coffee-cup icon lights up and the car makes a noise to let you know it’s worried about you.

Key fob technology – Bad things can happen to your car even when it’s parked. The key fob on some Volvo models will tell you – from afar – if the car is locked, if the alarm is armed, and even if there is someone inside.  The downside to having this tech in your pocket is the price tag – as keys become more powerful, they also become far more expensive to replace.  It’s also significantly easier to lock your keys in the car if you don’t need to have them in the ignition for the car to start (another feature on many new models.)

Hands-free Bluetooth integration – Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to try to dial your phone while you’redriving.  Almost every new model of car includes some means to synch your Bluetooth-enabled phone with the car itself, allowing you to receive calls through the car’s stereo system and keep your hands on the wheel.

Adaptive cruise control – If the future is self-driving cars, adaptive cruise control is the first step.  This tech uses sensors to know if your car needs to  speed up or slow down when you’re cruising  to maintain the same distance from the car in front of you.  It takes some of the frustration out of highway driving: no  more hitting the brakes and having to re-set your cruise control.

Car Safety of the Future

The automotive industry is always trying to keep one step ahead, and technological developments are happening at breakneck pace.

Vehicle to Vehicle Communication

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication – Many accidents are caused because a driver either didn’t know he had to react or didn’t react fast enough.  Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems are designed to cut down on these types of accidents by alerting drivers what other cars around them are doing.  The V2V system will use Wi-Fi to essentially say “I’m here” to other nearby cars.Once your car knows about hazards – stopped cars ahead, vehicles coming up quickly in a blind spot, or what’s just over a steep hill – it can warn you or, in the far-off future, react itself.  Although there are consistency and privacy concerns with this new technology, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is looking into recommending that all vehicles be equipped with some form of this technology in the  next few years.

Dashboard Heads-up displays – Every second you’re looking at something else is a second your eyes are off the road.  Heads-up displays (HUDs) allow drivers to see important information – speed, fuel level, GPS directions – projected unobtrusively onto their windshield, so they don’t have to look down and away from the road even for a second.  Apps like HUDway are already available: it generates a route map which is projected onto the windshield when you place your phone on the dashboard.  It far from perfect, but it’s available now, and it’s pretty cool.  Future models will potentially include HUD technology integrated into the vehicle itself.

Too Many Car Features?

If 2001: A Space Odyssey taught me anything, it’s that there is such a thing as too much technology.  I’m notsaying your car is likely to hurl you out of an airlock, but there are definite downsides to the glut of technology available in every new model car.

Security Downsides

First, here’s something alarming: the computers that run all of the bells and whistles on your new car aren’t that dissimilar to the types of computers that programmers have been breaking into for decades.  In 2010, researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Washington got together to figure out how many ways they could mess with their cars without touching them.  Turns out it’s a lot – using various nefarious methods, they were able to control everything from which song was playing to whether your doors were locks to whether the brakes worked.  (One researcher forgot he’d disabled his brakes and drove his car through his garage door.)  More and more features of new cars are computerized, which means more and more aspects are vulnerable if this particular brand of hacking goes mainstream.

Next, all of these technological cushions are useful, and surely negate a considerable amount of driver error every year.  What they also do, arguably, is make us lazy.  How many people don’t know how to parallel park because their car can do it for them? How many don’t bother to check their blind spots anymore because a light informs them if there’s a car there? How many rely on their cars rather than their instincts and reflexes?  Technology is fallible, and too much reliance on the lights and dings and camers in your car may make you a worse driver in the long run – especially if you borrow your buddy’s  1998 Civic for an afternoon.

Finally, you have to remember why all of these high-speed safety measures are necessary. It’s not just because cars are getting faster and larger.  It’s also because people are driving distracted.  We now carry handheld computers in our pockets and some people would rather look at those than the highway.  To compensate for the distractibility of drivers, lawmakers are slowly making distracted driving a crime and automakers are giving people as many methods as they can think of to try to hold drivers’ attention.  As the infotainment systems get ever-more integrated and complex, the safety systems must keep up to mititage the dangers as much as possible. The best defense is a good offense, and no high-tech gizmo in your car will replace focus and reflex.  If you think of this tech as a means to augment the skills of a good driver (that’s you), you’ll be better for it, and so will everyone around you.

Car Technology Guide

Car technology is getting more advanced – it’s never been easier to get lost in your car console. We’re here to help. From bluetooth to wi-fi tethering, to carsharing schemes and even driverless cars – our Car Tech Guide will help you stay abreast of the latest developments happening in car technology.

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