Once the stuff of futuristic comic books, active safety systems such as blind spot monitoring and pedestrian detection are now common on many vehicles. Take a trip to your local car dealership, and you'll see tech that was considered revolutionary—or was unheard of—only a decade ago. Safety products that you would have found back then still required the driver to react after being warned to steer back into a lane or correct other driving errors.
These days, cars are starting to do the thinking for you with systems that warn you—and then take control if you don't heed the warning. A host of sophisticated new safety technologies are allowing cars to become occupant protectors, and that's keeping drivers far safer behind the wheel. The technologies focus on a variety of situations, allowing you to detect pedestrians in your path and avoid forward collisions. In some cases, your car will even apply the brakes for you in an emergency situation.
Each one of these technologies "solves a piece of the larger crash problem. They really are making a difference," said Paul Green, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). A study out in July from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HDLI) that analyzed insurance claims found that these types of technologies have proven successful in avoiding crashes. In particular, there were far fewer claims filed for vehicles that had forward collision systems with autonomous braking than for those without the technology, said HLDI vice-president Matt Moore. Yes, these active safety systems started out on higher-end vehicles, but don't rule them out if you're on a budget: they are now filtering down to more mainstream cars. There is even a chance that pedestrian-detecting technology could be common as soon as the next several years. If that’s the case, Honda is already well on the way to implementing that. More than 94 percent of its 2013 model lineup will be equipped with rear-view cameras, including 100 percent of the truck lineup.
If you are as intrigued by active safety technology as we are, you might enjoy the following rundown of what's available in several automakers' lineups, and at what price.
Audi provides a lane departure warning system available on the 2013 A8, which makes the steering wheel vibrate if the driver leaves the lane. In its active lane assist, available on the 2013 Audi A6 3.0T, S6, A7, and S7, if the driver is drifting without having activated the turn signal, the system helps steer the driver back into the lane by intervening in the electromechanical steering. The driver has the option of programming an additional steering wheel vibration and warning tone. The system also can intervene to reduce skidding. This is available on comprehensive safety packages ranging from $5,600 to $5,650. Also in the packages: four phases of assisted braking and Pre Sense Plus, which prepares the vehicle for a potential collision by tightening seatbelts, adjusting the seats, and closing the windows and sunroof. It also includes four phases of assisted braking.
BMW vehicles include lane departure warning and active blind spot detection, which cost $1,100 on the 3-Series sedan. A package on the 6-Series that includes these features, as well as top- and side-view cameras and parking assist, costs $3,700.
The 2013 XTS, SRX, and ATS offer a Driver Awareness package. Among its features are lane departure warning and forward collision alert, which will help prevent front and rear collisions by braking the car if the vehicle ahead slows unexpectedly, as well as a safety alert seat. The safety alert seat uses seat vibrations to alert the driver to a potential collision. The driver also has the option to reprogram the system to provide the alert with beeps instead of seat vibrations. Driver Awareness is an $845 option for the ATS Luxury Collection. It is standard on the Performance and Premium Collection models. The ATS has a Driver Assist package that encompasses all the Driver Awareness features, plus rear cross-traffic alert (warning the driver of traffic in the rear during backing out of a parking spot), automatic collision preparation, and blind zone alert. Driver Assist is optional on the ATS Performance and Premium Collection option packages, which are priced at $3,645 and $3,220, respectively. The Driver Awareness package is $445 on the SRX Luxury and Performance models; it's standard on the Premium models. Blind zone and cross-traffic alert systems are standard on the SRX Luxury, Performance and Premium collections. Driver Assist availability on the XTS will start this fall. Pricing has not been announced.
Chrysler offers a rear park-assist system called ParkSense, helping the driver detect stationary objects when the vehicle is in reverse through an audible alert and visual warning. Pricing for it and other safety systems on this automaker's models is complex. On most 2013 Chrysler 300 models, ParkSense, blind spot and cross path detection, and forward collision warning come as part of the optional SafetyTec package. ParkView, Chrysler’s backup camera system, is part of the Drive Convenience Group package. Either package will cost about $2,000. On the 2013 Town & Country’s higher trim levels, items in these packages are standard, but the SafetyTec package is optional on the base model.
If you’re interested in a Dodge Dart and want the same features, the items in the SafetyTec package come in the Dart’s Technology Group package instead for just under $1,000 (but without forward collision warning); ParkView is standard. You’ll find the same three items that are in the Technology package in the Driver Confidence Group package on most 2013 Charger models. At you move up in the Charger lineup, forward collision warning is added in the Adaptive Cruise Control Group, The ParkView backup camera also becomes available in the Navigation/Rear Backup Camera Group, and ParkSense becomes standard. Charger packages range in price from $600 to $1,500. The names of the packages change on the 2013 Durango. ParkSense and ParkView can be had either in the Popular Equipment Group package, the Entry Navigation/Commuter Group, or standard on the higher trim levels. Blind spot and cross path detection are part of the Crew Convenience Group or the Technology Group. Packages range from $800 to $1,500. None of the features come standard on the Dodge Journey; you’ll have to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,400. On the Grand Caravan, packages with all items except forward collision warning cost up to $1,300. Fiat offers the ParkSense rear park assist system in its $700 Convenience Group package, but only for the 500 Lounge model.
On the Jeep Grand Cherokee, most of the items come standard on nearly all of the higher trim levels, starting with the Laredo X. On the higher trim levels on the Ram 1500 and 2500, ParkView or ParkView and ParkSense come standard.
Ford's active safety features include a lane keeping system and adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert. In addition, it has cross-traffic alert, which uses two radar modules that warn the driver of vehicle traffic when backing out of a parking spot. It also has curve control, which slows the car down if the driver is moving too fast along a curve, applying the brakes if necessary. Lane keeping is available on the 2013 Fusion and Explorer; forward collision alert is on the Fusion, Taurus, Edge, Explorer, and Flex; cross-traffic alert is on the Fusion, Taurus, Escape, Edge, Explorer, and Flex, and curve control is on the Taurus, C-Max, Escape, and Explorer. As for pricing, on the Fusion, the Driver Assist package includes cross traffic alert and lane keeping and costs $1,000. Lane keeping is part of a $5,600 package on the Explorer. Curve control comes standard on the Taurus, Escape, and Explorer.
Brake assist is standard on all Honda automobiles. Rearview cameras are standard on all 2013 Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline, Accord, CR-V, and 2012 Crosstour trim levels and the 2013 Insight EX with navigation. Lane departure warning and forward collision warning are standard on Honda's 2013 Accord EX-L sedan, EX-L coupe, and Touring Sedan models. Honda LaneWatch blind spot display is standard on the Accord EX/EX-L sedan and coupe, Touring Sedan, and EX-L V-6 sedan and coupe.
Mercedes offers lane keeping assist, which simulates rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the driver drifts from the lane. It's available on all models except the G-Class and S-Class. It's typically bundled with blind spot assist in a package that costs around $850. Mercedes' Pre-Safe brake system applies the brake automatically in an emergency. It is available on the S-, E-, SL-, SLK-, C-, CL-, CLS-, M-, GL- and GLK-Classes, typically as part of the Driver Assistance package, which includes more advanced radar systems and active braking. It runs $2,800. The system puts the car into a safe pre-collision mode automatically, tightening the front seatbelts and moving the front passenger's seat into a position that provides better protection. The sunroof also closes in anticipation of a possible rollover.
Nissan's 2013 Altima uses a single rear camera to provide lane departure warning,blind spot detection, and moving object detection. Moving object detection warns a driver if there is an object in the way as he or she backs up. It's part of an option package that also includes a comprehensive navigation and weather system and costs $1,090. Many Infiniti vehicles have brake assist, blind spot warning, backup collision intervention, lane departure warning and intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning. They come as part of Infiniti packages that are priced from $2,200 to $3,000.
This year, Subaru introduced its EyeSight suite of active safety technologies. It uses two cameras mounted inside the car that can identify vehicles traveling in front, along with other obstacles. The systems includes pre-collision braking, which stops the car if the driver does is not reacting in time to avoid an impact; lane departure warning, which warns a driver who strays outside the lane; and adaptive cruise control. EyeSight is currently on the 2013 Legacy and Outback as part of a $3,940 package that also includes a moonroof and a navigation system. The company's goal is to offer it on every car in the future. "We see this as one of our core technologies going forward," said David Sullivan, Subaru of America's car line planning manager.
Volvo's City Safety pre-collision system helps to avoid forward collisions, automatically braking if the car in front stops suddenly and the driver doesn't respond or is moving too fast. The technology launched on the XC60 and is a standard feature on the 2012 and 2013 S60, S80, XC60, and XC70. It was responsible for fewer low-speed crashes on the XC60, with 27 percent fewer claims under property damage liability filed than on other mid-size luxury SUVs, according to the HLDI.
Volvo's Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake uses a radar unit in the grille, a camera in the rearview mirror, and a central control unit. The radar can detect any obstacle in the car’s path and the car’s distance from it, while the camera determines the type of object. The driver first hears a warning and then sees a flashing light in the head-up display. If the driver does not react to the warning, the brakes are applied. The system is offered as part of a comprehensive technology package that costs $2,100 on the 2013 S60, XC60, and XC70. “Our strategy is to make sure that the vehicle can assist, warn the driver, and act when the driver does not, but the driver is always master in control of the vehicle," said Adam Kopstein, manager of the North American Safety and Compliance Office of Volvo Cars of North America.