There’s been an influx of intelligent car safety features in recent years, with many now being offered as standard or options on new cars. But do you know what they are, what they do and how they improve safety?
We’ve selected our favourite five car safety features and tell you how they work and how they could protect you and your passengers on the road.
1. Standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Electronic Stability Control isn’t new, however we think it’s such a vital piece of safety kit that carmakers should fit it as standard to all their new cars.
ESC improves the dynamic stability of a vehicle by detecting a loss of grip and then actively regaining control of the vehicle to prevent it sliding. It won’t protect the driver or occupants in a crash, but is designed to avoid a crash in the first place.
In 2010, Which? Car highlighted the serious safety risk of not having ESC when a Citroen Nemo Multispace that was not fitted with ESC flipped over in our tests. The French carmaker has since made ESC standard on this model.
We’re pleased that EU legislation will insist all brand-new car models from 2012 to have ESC as standard, and that for existing model ranges it must be standard by 2014.
2. Lane and Attention Assist
Lane Assist is becoming a more common safety feature on new cars, especially luxury cars and common fleet-favourites that tend to cover a lot motorway miles. The system detects if you stray over the white marking between motorway lanes and alerts you to this by either vibrating the seat or steering wheel or by bleeping at you. It’s designed to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers being drowsy or feeling asleep behind the wheel.
Attention Assist has been developed by Mercedes-Benz and is designed to prevent the same sort of accidents as brake assist, but on a much more intelligent level. The system produces an individual profile of the driver’s behaviour by observing each journey, and then continuously monitors your driving. Once it detects your driving input – like gear changes and steering – is slowing, it gives an early warning on the dash with a cup of coffee suggesting you stop for a break.
Again, these are both designed to prevent crashes, rather than protect occupants in an accident.
3. Intelligent braking
Brake Assist is a common safety feature on many new cars: this system detects situations when emergency braking is required by measuring the speed and pressure with which the brake pedal is depressed and providing full maximum braking boost to mitigate the driver braking without enough force.
However, a new stream of intelligent braking systems is becoming available on executive cars like the Audi A7 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz CLS. These advanced braking systems include radar sensors, cameras and lasers that recognise vehicles and objects in front of the car and alert the driver if a collision is imminent. If the driver doesn’t react and the collision cannot be avoided by swerving, the system automatically brakes to prevent the impact or reduce the speed at which it will take place.
4. Night vision
Night vision is another piece of technology being spearheaded by German carmakers. It uses high-powered infrared lamps, with beams invisible to the human eye, which is directed towards to road ahead. The image is picked up by a camera behind the windscreen that then displays the image on the sat nav display.
It’s been designed to increase the driver’s perception and seeing distance in darkness and poor weather beyond the reach of traditional headlamps, but also to identify pedestrians walking near or on roads at night. At present this optional extra costs £1,000 and above on luxury models.
5. Blind spot monitors
Cars driving into eachother’s blindspots – for example, pulling out when another car is overtaking – is a frequent cause of collisions on motorways. So we think it’s great that blind spot monitors have started to become more popular and widespread.
These monitors detect when another vehicle is in the blind spot and either visually or audibly notify the driver. Many now come with a warning light fitted in the wing mirror, which illuminates when another vehicle is in your blind spot.
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