Impressive new car safety features

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. What technologies are available that might help keep our employees safer on the road?

A. If it has been a while since you've shopped for a new vehicle, you might be interested to learn that the higher-end models of many brands are packed with a number of new safety features, enough in some cases to substantially reduce your insurance premiums. As examples, presented below is a list of some of the newer safety features offered by the 2018 Lexus RX 350L and 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee; similar safety features can be found on many of today's higher-end vehicles.

Automatic braking. While driving, radar continually monitors the road ahead and alerts the car to brake automatically to avoid collisions with cars or other obstacles in your path.

Adaptive cruise control. While driving with cruise control, radar continually monitors the vehicle ahead of you and automatically adjusts the car's speed to maintain a safe distance from that vehicle. If the vehicle ahead slows, your vehicle will also slow. If the vehicle ahead accelerates, your vehicle will automatically accelerate to your preset cruising speed.

Lane departure warning. This feature detects if you start to cross over your lane lines and issues an alert. In some vehicles, the system alerts you by vibrating the steering wheel slightly and producing a rumbling tone that mimics the sound and feel of the rumble strips found along the edge of some highways. Some cars also can steer themselves back into the proper lane.

Blind-spot monitor. When the vehicle detects you changing lanes, a blind-spot monitor warns you when vehicles are in the adjacent lanes. When you activate your blinker, many systems can flash warning lights in the side mirrors to warn you when vehicles are in your blind spot, even if you haven't yet started changing lanes.

Hands-free calling. This feature allows you to make and receive phone calls without taking your hands off the steering wheel. Another feature can read your text messages to you, but usually only when the car has come to a complete stop.

Voice commands. Some vehicles respond to voice commands, such as "call home," "tune the radio to 97.1 FM," and "navigate to the Atlanta airport," so you can better control the vehicle's gadgets hands-free.

Anti-skid. Whenever a vehicle starts to skid, the driver can lose control of the car. To help the driver maintain control, Toyota has developed a system called vehicle dynamics integrated management (VDIM), which is designed to prevent skidding by using a combination of computer-controlled individual-wheel braking, torque modulation from the engine, and steering torque assistance.

Vehicle stability control. Many vehicles can detect the wheels slipping (or sliding) while cornering, and when that happens, it will automatically modulate the engine power and use selective application of individual brakes to help control the slide.

Smart Stop technology. Sometimes when drivers panic, they accidentally press the brake and accelerator pedals at the same time. The Smart Stop system from Toyota automatically reduces engine power, so braking becomes the priority.

Backup camera. When you put many of today's vehicles in reverse, a backup camera displays the vehicle's rear view, along with computer-generated guidelines to assist you with backing up or parallel parking.

Intuitive parking assist. When parallel parking, many vehicle systems can detect surrounding objects and notify you of their location and proximity. In some vehicles, active parking assist can parallel park your car for you.

Rear cross-traffic alerts and braking. When backing out of a parking space, many vehicle systems can detect vehicles approaching from either side and alert you of their presence. If the vehicle senses a potential collision, it will automatically brake to a stop.

Tire pressure monitor system. Many of today's newer vehicles continually monitor the air pressure of all four tires, and if the pressure drops too much in any tire, a light displays on the instrument panel alerting the driver to the tire(s) with low pressure.

Alertness monitoring. Some vehicles can detect actions, for example when the vehicle drifts across lanes, that indicate the driver might be tired or has fallen asleep. In those cases, the car can alert the driver with a sound, steering wheel rumble, and visual signals.

Other. Of course, there are many older standard safety features such as antilock brakes, wraparound airbags, rain-sensing wipers, windshield wiper de-icer, headlamp washers, and roadside assistance.

Insurance companies provide discounts for many of these safety features so that in some cases the premiums to cover a new car are not much higher than the cost of covering one that's 15 years older. My beloved truck, which I call Brutus, now has more than 175,000 miles, and I've often quipped, "That means I'm halfway to my next truck." But in light of the new safety features available today, maybe it's time for me to upgrade.


About the author

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, a conference presenter, and a JofA contributing editor.

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