Top 10 High-Tech Car Safety Technologies
It's just a fact of life — we are living longer. And it's not just because of tofu, sunscreen and medical breakthroughs. Automakers are to thank (or curse) for this as much as doctors, since they are competitively blending performance and creature comforts with cutting-edge safety technology that tries to stay one step ahead of you — and everyone else on the road.
While pedestrian-friendly bumpers and cars that can drive themselves may seem like the faraway future of automotive safety, so did many of the features that are now industry standards for 2006-'07 models. It makes us wonder if the Jeep Grand Cherokee Concierge concept from 2002 — with an integrated heart defibrillator — might catch on as part of the next wave of safety.
Below are our top 10 choices for safety technologies, complete with a list of the automakers that offer them and their estimated costs.
- Tire-pressure monitoring
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all U.S. passenger
vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less be equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system by
the 2008 model year. But it's already a safety feature in most new autos. (For example, BMW
will have it as standard equipment on all of its models by the end of 2006.) Sensors at the
wheels are able to alert you if the air pressure is too low by an audible warning, a light on
the instrument panel, or both. You may also see more cars with run-flat tires (the Corvette,
among the current offerings), which allow a vehicle to continue to run at a relatively high
rate of speed for 50-plus miles.
- Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet,
Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hummer, Hyundai, Infiniti, Isuzu, Jaguar, Jeep,
Kia, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan,
Pontiac, Porsche, Range Rover, Rolls-Royce, Scion, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
- As an option, it typically costs less than $100.
- Adaptive cruise control/collision mitigation
Modern cruise control goes beyond just maintaining a constant speed. Thanks to sensors and
the use of radar, cruise control can now adjust the throttle and brakes to keep a safe
distance from the vehicle in front of you if there are changes in traffic speed or if a
slowpoke cuts in. If the system senses a potential collision, it typically will brake hard and
tighten the seatbelts. Once it knows the lane is clear or traffic has sped up, it will return
your car to its original cruising speed, all without your input. Of course, you may override
the system by touching the brakes. The Mercedes-Benz and Maybach systems go by a less obvious
- Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz,
Range Rover, Toyota and Volvo.
- As an option, it should cost $600-$3,100, but could be more if it's part of a package.
(The Lexus LS 430 Ultra Luxury Selection package includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control for
$13,570, for example.)
- Blind-spot detection/side assist/collision warning
This technology is designed to alert you to cars or objects in your blind spot during driving
or parking, or both. Usually it will respond when you put on your turn signal; if it detects
something in the way, it may flash a light in your mirror, cause the seat or steering wheel to
vibrate, or sound an alarm. This is more of a short-range detection system.
- Available from: Audi and Volvo.
- As a stand-alone option on the Audi, it's $500; Volvo is TBA.
- Lane-departure warning/wake-you-up safety
This is similar to blind-spot/side-assist technology but with more range. It judges an
approaching vehicle's speed and distance to warn you of potential danger if you change lanes.
However, because it doesn't necessarily require the turn signal, it can also warn if it
determines your car is wandering out of the lane, such as if you are distracted. This could
come in the form of a vibration through the seat or steering wheel, or an alarm. Down the road
expect lane-departure warning to even be able to monitor body posture, head position and eye
activity to decide if the driver is falling asleep and the vehicle is behaving erratically.
At that point, the system may even be capable of slowing the car down and engaging stability
control. Just in case.
- Available from: Infiniti.
- As an option, packages run $3,600-$10,500.
- Rollover prevention/mitigation
Most automakers offer an electronic stability control system, and some offer a preparation
system (seatbelts tighten, rollbars extend). However, what we're talking about is more
intelligent than that. If the system senses a potential rollover (such as if you whip around
a corner too fast or swerve sharply), it will apply the brakes and modulate throttle as
needed to help you maintain control. DaimlerChrysler calls it Electronic Roll Mitigation,
Ford named it Roll Stability Control, and GM's is Proactive Roll Avoidance. Range Rover's is
Active Roll Mitigation, while Volvo's is called Roll-Over Protection System. But they all
have the same goal.
- Available with stability control systems from: Audi, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford,
GMC, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, Range Rover and Volvo.
- Occupant-sensitive/dual-stage airbags
All humans are not created equal, and airbags are evolving to compensate in the form of
low-risk, multistage and occupant-sensitive deployment. Technology can now sense the different
sizes and weights of occupants as well as seatbelt usage, abnormal seating position (such as
reaching for the radio or bending to pick something off the floor), rear-facing child seats
and even vehicle speed. While driver, passenger and side curtain airbags are nothing new,
sensing airbags are popping up (so to speak) everywhere.
- Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford,
GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz,
Mercury, Nissan, Pontiac, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.
- Emergency brake assist/collision mitigation
This brake technology is different from an antilock braking system or electronic brakeforce
distribution, in that it recognizes when the driver makes a panic stop (a quick shift from
gas to brake pedal) and will apply additional brake pressure to help shorten the stopping
distance. It may also work in conjunction with the smart cruise control or stability control
system in some vehicles if it senses a potential collision. It is often called brake assist,
although BMW, for example, refers to it as Dynamic Brake Control.
- Available from: Acura, Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover,
Lexus, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Scion, Subaru,
Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen.
- Adaptive headlights and/or night-vision assist
Night vision can be executed in different forms, such as infrared headlamps or thermal-imaging
cameras. But no matter the science, the goal is the same: to help you see farther down the
road and to spot animals, people or trees in the path — even at nearly 1,000 feet away. An
image is generated through a cockpit display, brightening the objects that are hard to see
with the naked eye. Adaptive headlights follow the direction of the vehicle (bending the light
as you go around corners). They may also be speed-sensitive (changing beam length or height),
or compensate for ambient light.
- Available from: Acura, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover,
Lexus, Lincoln, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen and Volvo.
- As an option: Prices vary; it's $700 as a stand-alone option on the Mercedes-Benz S550
but $6,550 for part of the car's Premium III package. The cost for most night-vision systems
falls between those figures.
- Rearview camera
Rearview cameras not only protect your car, but also protect children and animals from
accidental back-overs. Backing up your car has graduated from side mirrors tilting down or
causing chirps and beeps to real-time viewing. New-school tech involves a camera that works
with the navigation system to provide a wide-open shot of what's happening behind you to help
with parking or hooking up a trailer.
- Available from: Acura, Audi, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche,
Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen.
- As an option: Expect to pay anywhere from $750 to $10,000 — or more, if part of a package.
- Emergency response
There are a variety of ways vehicles now and in the future will handle an emergency situation.
For example, DaimlerChrysler's Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) turns on interior
lighting, unlocks doors and shuts off fuel when airbags deploy, while Volkswagen's also
switches on the hazards and disconnects the battery terminal from the alternator. In addition,
GM's OnStar and BMW Assist both alert their respective response centers of the accident and
make crash details available to emergency personnel.
- Available from: Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, GMC, Hummer, Jeep,
Land Rover, Maybach, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Volvo.
- Optional: Some services may require a monthly fee, but provide additional capabilities
Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. First published on www.edmunds.com and excerpted with permission.