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New Safety Tech Explained

New prototypes and software updates make it difficult to keep up with the latest safety tech, so here’s an explanation of what the latest features do.

Trying to Keep Up

Nissan Safety Tech - europe.nissannews.com
Nissan Safety Tech - europe.nissannews.com

Technology is ever-changing and, as a result, so is the preventative safety measures auto makers place in vehicles. 36,096 people died of motor vehicle crashes in 2019, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and they believe driver assistance features, mostly using some combination of radar, can lower that number.

Some of the features mentioned here have been around for several years already, but they’ve only been available in higher trims, with certain makes, or in specific geographic regions. Thankfully, more safety advancements are becoming standard in even the lowest-priced vehicles.

Rear-Seat Passenger Warnings

2021 Nissan Maxima Advanced Drive Assist - nissanusa.com
2021 Nissan Maxima Advanced Drive Assist - nissanusa.com

An average human being can regularly have half a dozen things running through their mind in a short time span, from car payments and avoiding traffic jams to work schedules and grocery lists. Add a child in there and you’ve got another half a dozen things to think about.

That’s why car manufacturers started offering rear-seat passenger warnings, keeping your child safe and top of mind amidst all the other things happening in your life. Of course, some people leave their dogs in vehicles as they run into the store as well, forgetting to leave their windows cracked, so this alert can also be useful to pet owners.

There are a couple kinds of notifications. First, there’s a door logic reminder, which monitors if a rear door is opened prior to or during a trip. At the end of the trip, you’ll be provided a visual alert or hear chimes.

Genesis GV70 Rear Passenger Alert - tech.hyundaimotorgroup.com
Genesis GV70 Rear Passenger Alert - tech.hyundaimotorgroup.com

Nissan, GM and Subaru all have their town versions of this. GMC introduced this feature in their 2017 Acadia. Each make has its own tweaks. Nissan’s Rear Door Alert has an additional audible alert after exiting the vehicle. You can turn the feature off in a Ford, but you’ll get a prompt asking you to reactivate it every six months.

An additional style of alert detects movement in the back seats. Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis models use ultrasonic sensors to detect motion after a vehicle was locked. The high-precision radar sensor in a Genesis GV70 can use a very high frequency to detect small movements of an object such as the movements of a baby’s belly or chest as it breathes in and out. A notification is then be sent to the driver’s phone or email.

It doesn’t stop with the makes mentioned above. Chevrolet, Infiniti, Lincoln, and others offer door logic systems in all trims of new 2021 vehicles. In 2019, the Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers pledged that by 2025 they’ll put standard rear-seat occupant alerts into all fleets of their passenger cars.

Forward Collision Warnings

Toyota Safety Sense - toyota.com
Toyota Safety Sense - toyota.com

You may not have a child, but anyone who has driven in a parking lot or on a street should be able to relate to this next instance. You’re on your way to wherever you are headed when, all of the sudden, something darts into the street.

Using radar and a set of onboard cameras, detection systems are now able to detect objects, animals, and people. This can, of course, be applied to specific types of people, like pedestrians or cyclists. It can include objects, like a car.

Depending on the make, you’ll receive different kinds of warnings. A Toyota, for example, will issue audio and visual warnings. Other systems will reduce your speed if that feature is turned on.

Automatic Emergency Braking

Vehicle detection - jeep.com
Vehicle detection - jeep.com

The pedestrian detection feature rolls right into pedestrian automatic emergency braking. With automatic braking, you don’t roll right into pedestrians, actually!

What happens when the pedestrian is detected or when you are approaching a vehicle too quickly?

Volvo has a detection system (also using radar and cameras) called City Safety, which will reduce your vehicle’s speed by up to 30mph if a cyclist is detected or 28mph if a pedestrian is detected. The system will reduce your speed by up to 9mph in the case of a large animal. They caution that this is a driver aid and cannot detect people or animals if they are partially obscured, if clothing is blocking body contours, or if a cyclist is also transporting a large object.

Volvo Forward Collision Warning - media.volvocars.com
Volvo Forward Collision Warning - media.volvocars.com

There are actually several kinds of brake assists available. Some actually scan intersections as you’re driving, so that you don’t get sideswiped by another vehicle. The Volvo XC90 will initiate automatic emergency braking if the driver in front of an oncoming car.

Similarly, there are forward collision warnings, using radar sensors to detect if your vehicle is approaching another too rapidly. Now standard in the Jeep Compass Limited and Trailhawk models, brakes will be applied if necessary. Each of the systems use radar to determine if vehicles are approaching, whether it’s from the side or the front.

Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane-trace and Stop-and-Go

2021 Jeep Wrangler Adaptive Cruise Control - jeep.com
2021 Jeep Wrangler Adaptive Cruise Control - jeep.com

Cruise control has been around for many years, but adaptive cruise control takes it up a notch. It will detect if a slower vehicle is ahead of you and then slow down to avoid a collision. Additionally, it will return to the originally set speed once that slower vehicle is out of the way. How is that done? By using the navigation system and/or front cameras. Some of the most advanced systems even slow down around curves or reduce speed if the speed limit changes. Those utilize a Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR) System to recognize and interpret posted road signs.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert

Cross Traffic Alert - ford.com
Cross Traffic Alert - ford.com

If they’ve got forward collision warnings, it stands to reason that auto dealers thought about the same kind of warnings in the back. If you’re in a parking space and ready to back out, the rearview camera is a help, but the Rear Cross Traffic Alert uses sensors to let you know if a car, out of your line of sight, is approaching. The sensors, like most, won’t work if they are blocked by heavy rain, ice, snow, or mud.

Varying by brand again, some vehicles will employ automatic braking to prevent a collision if the Rear Cross Traffic Alert goes off.

Head-Up Displays

2021 Toyota Camry Heads Up Display - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Camry Heads Up Display - toyota.com

One of the more exciting new features to come along in the past few years is the Head-Up Display (HUD). It already has a spot on our Top 10 Must-Have Car Features list. If you haven’t done a test drive recently and are still pushing that 2010 Toyota Corolla to the 150,000-mile mark, you may not have experienced this.

Important information or key warnings are actually projected onto your windshield in your line of sight, usually near the bottom of the windshield. That way you aren’t looking down at an instrument panel or off to the side at a touchscreen to find information like speed limits. Some systems, like the one in the Lincoln Navigator or the one in the Nissan Pathfinder, also offer turn-by-turn directions.

Toyota has a HUD button on the steering wheel, so you can easily turn the HUD on or off.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Heads Up Display - nissanusa.com
2022 Nissan Pathfinder Heads Up Display - nissanusa.com

Mazda’s version of this, the Active Driving Display Show, automatically displays the vehicle speed and any cruise control settings. If you’re using the Mazda navigation system, the route’s next turn will also be displayed. Additional information, ranging from cruise control to brake support, can also be shown.

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Some adjustments can be made to the systems, allowing you to change the height, angle, and brightness of the information. Chevrolet lets you flip through certain pages of information, finding whatever details you want to keep up.

Personally, I don’t know that I want all of that information on my windshield. I don’t need a constant barrage of numbers and graphics popping up while I am actually trying to focus on the road and what is directly in front of me. That being said, I like the idea of not having to look back and forth between a smaller touchscreen and at the road ahead of me for GPS guidance in an unfamiliar city. In certain instances, I really like having that feature.

Drowsy Driver Assists

Drowsy Driver Assist - MyCarDoesWhat on YouTube.com
Drowsy Driver Assist - MyCarDoesWhat on YouTube.com

You hate to admit it, but there are times when most people are traveling that they get zoned out. Whether it’s the lack of any other vehicles on the road, the flat land, the barren landscape, or not getting enough rest, drivers can all-of-the-sudden feel fatigued. New technology is working to remedy accidents caused by drowsy drivers.

Hyundai uses DDREM, the name for a set of technologies, to recognize when the operator of a vehicle is dozing off or incapacitated in some other way, like suffering from cardiac arrest. That DDREM system involves a 2-step process, using camera sensors in the cabin to monitor the position of the driver’s head, line of sight, blinking speeds, and other physiological behavior.

If the system picks up on those things, you’ll get a warning and a suggestion to pull over and rest. Then, using the front cameras to monitor any zig-zag movements, if a lane change occurs, the system uses the lane assist function to keep the vehicle from steering off the roadway.

Blind Spot Detection

BMW Blind Spot Detection - bmw.ca
BMW Blind Spot Detection - bmw.ca

Almost all modern cars offer blind-spot monitoring of some kind, even at the lowest trim. Just like with other driver assist features, the blind spot monitoring utilizes cameras and sensors to detect objects in, you guessed it: your blind spot.

If an object is detected, there are a variety of ways you are notified.

Some systems will activate an orange-colored warning light on your side mirrors with an audible beep.

Other systems have a steering-wheel vibration option.

BMW gives drivers the option of throwing a live feed of their side view cameras into their center display. The 2021 Kia Sorento and 2021 Hyundai Palisade do the same.

If you’re looking for a car with blind spot protection, take a look at our list of Top 10 Affordable Cars with Blind Spot Detection.

Safe Exit Warnings

Hyundai Safe Exit Assist - hyundai.news
Hyundai Safe Exit Assist - hyundai.news

Anyone who parks on the street knows that once you’re lucky enough to find a good spot, you have to take the next step very carefully. Getting out of the vehicle with cruising cars on city streets is not ideal. You check the mirrors and make sure traffic isn’t approaching, but sometimes they come out of nowhere, pulling out of a driveway or coming around a corner.

Safe Exit Warnings use the radar and sensor technology to specifically prevent the door from opening when a car is approaching from behind, perhaps in the blind spot. The driver can, of course, turn that feature off, but you’ll get a warning before you do that.

If you’ve got kids or other passengers in the back seat, they won’t be able to override that feature, no matter how many times they try to unlock the doors.

Front Center Airbags

GM front center airbag - media.gm.com
GM front center airbag - media.gm.com

Way back in 2011, GM announced it was introducing front center airbags in the 2013 Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Chevrolet Traverse. The airbag deploys from the right side of the driver’s seat and positions itself between the front row seats near the center of the vehicle, protecting the occupants in side-impact crashes.

It’s becoming more regular, but don’t be surprised if you see it as an add-on since it’s not a standard feature on all makes and models at all trim levels.

Overhead 360 Surround-View Cameras

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 360 Degree Camera - chevrolet.com
2021 Chevrolet Silverado 360 Degree Camera - chevrolet.com

This feature isn’t exactly new. My 2014 middle trim Nissan had this feature and I loved it within a few days of using it! With this technology, you’re granted a virtual, 3D-generated 360-degree camera view. How does that work, exactly?

Video from four cameras (the front, the rear and each side of the car) is displayed into composite footage. It’s especially helpful when you’re trying to maneuver into a tight spot or if you’re checking your parking after you’ve pulled into a space.

For whatever reason, it’s just now making its way into some other brands and lower trim levels. It may have taken seven years for it to become a more regular feature, but I’m happy for anyone who is just discovering it. I’m sure you’ll find it very useful.

Lane Departure Warnings

2021 Mazda CX-30 Lane Keep Assist - mazdausa.com
2021 Mazda CX-30 Lane Keep Assist - mazdausa.com

If vehicles can do all the other things already mentioned, you’d assume they can also tell you if you are swerving into other lanes. You’d be right in that assumption. Using some of the same technology as the other driver assist features, lane keeping assist (or lane tracing assist) will alert you if you’ve crossed over the solid yellow or dotted white lines on the road.

I keep my alert system on, although rain will sometimes make it less reliable, alerting me that I’ve crossed over into another lane when I haven’t. There are kinks that are constantly being worked out with the ever-changing, but lane keeping assist has become an increasingly standard feature over the past several years. These days it’s almost hard to find a newer model vehicle that doesn’t include it as a standard feature.

Automatic High Beam Assist

Mercedes-Benz Adaptive Highbeam Assistance - mercedes-benz.com
Mercedes-Benz Adaptive Highbeam Assistance - mercedes-benz.com

If you’ve driven down a two-lane road at night, then you’ve probably experienced coming upon an approaching vehicle with their brights on. Or, worse yet, you are driving along and someone pulls up directly behind you with their high beams on. Yikes! An auto dimming rearview mirror can alleviate some of the strain on your eyes, but high beams are just no fun when they are being shined on your car or truck.

Automatic High Beam Assist depends on a forward-looking camera that is located in the rearview mirror. That camera detects tail lights, headlights, and street lights. No longer do you need to switch your lights on and off. If you have this feature enabled, the technology does it for you.

Even if you don’t find it particularly useful, the driver in front of you probably does.

Use It to Your Take Advantage

Warnings, detections, and assists, oh my! Phew. There’s certainly a lot of new technology being implemented into your vehicles, taking driving habits and possible road dangers into account. Most can be turned on and off, used at will. Certainly, no substitute for alert driving, these will hopefully limit some avoidable accidents. Whether you keep these features enabled or not, options are always nice to have.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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