The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization funded by insurers and dedicated to minimizing dangers on the roads, has released a study revealing that vehicles equipped with forward collision avoidance systems show a significant reduction in damage from crashes.
The study followed Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Acura vehicles that carry the technology. Those with an autonomous braking system, which allows the vehicle to brake in an emergency without driver input, were most effective, showing a 14 percent reduction in property damage liability insurance claims. Other technologies such as blind spot detection did not show significant improvements in safety.
Upscale brands and pricier models costing more than $60,000 are often first to bring new safety technologies to market. However, some more affordable vehicles offer advanced safety systems, too. Collision warning notifies the driver of an imminent collision and prepares the vehicle to mitigate damage. It's already available to those with more modest budgets. Some 2013 models will soon offer advanced radar- and camera-based systems, too.
Here are a few bargains for the car shopper who is focused on safety.
2012 Ford Edge
The optional collision warning system in the Ford Edge Limited is packaged alongside comfort and convenience features including adaptive cruise control, a panoramic glass roof and rain-sensing wipers. The system alerts the driver to a potential collision with both audible and visual warnings, including flashing red lights in the head-up display that simulate brake lights. Equipment group 302A, Ford's name for the options package, also includes a blind-spot detection system that will alert the driver of traffic crossing the vehicle's path when the vehicle is being backed out of a parking space or driveway. With these options, the Edge Limited is priced just over $40,000.
2012 Volvo S60
Collision warning with auto brake in the Volvo S60 sedan works similarly to the equipment in the Edge, except that the Volvo can apply full braking power in some conditions, even with no input from the driver. If the difference in speed between the S60 and the car or obstacle ahead is 22 mph or less, the auto brake function is operable, helping to avoid a collision altogether. Unlike some other manufacturers' collision warning systems, which are offered only on top-trim models, collision warning is available across the S60 lineup. The S60 starts at $31,300, and the technology package with collision warning adds $2,100 to the price.
2012 Toyota Prius
Toyota's fuel-efficient hybrid Prius, now in its third generation, is available in five trim levels. Only the top-of-the-line Prius Five, which has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of $29,805, is available with the Advance Technology Package that includes Toyota's Pre-Collision System. When the system senses that a crash is imminent, it retracts the front seatbelts and activates the pre-collision brake. PCS differs from true collision avoidance in that it aims to mitigate the damage from a crash rather than avoid it altogether, but the technology could still help to reduce damage and injury. With a city/highway fuel economy rating of 51/48 mpg, the economical Prius may leave enough in the budget for the $4,320 tech package, which includes extras such as navigation and adaptive cruise control.
2013 Honda Crosstour
In an effort to improve safety in parking lots and driveways, Honda announced earlier this year that more than 94 percent of its 2013 vehicles would include rear-view cameras. That simple but effective technology will be standard on the 2013 Crosstour and Accord. Honda is taking steps to mitigate accidents when the vehicle is moving forward, too. The company will offer forward collision warning on the 2013 Crosstour, pairing the camera-based setup with a lane departure warning system. Pricing for the 2013 model has not yet been announced, but expect models equipped with collision warning to be priced around $35,000.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
Collision warning is now available on the Malibu with the 2013 model year. The technology is optional on the two top trim levels, 2LT and LTZ. Both of those models are priced lower than their 2012 equivalents, leaving extra dollars in the budget for the Advanced Safety package, which includes forward collision warning and lane departure warning. The completely redesigned 2013 Malibu has already received a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
2013 Subaru Legacy
Like Volvo's system, Subaru's collision warning technology can apply the brakes with no input from the driver, functioning when the speed differential is 19 mph or less. The technology is part of a suite of driver assistance features that Subaru calls EyeSight. It depends on a pair of digital cameras and also includes adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. EyeSight will be available on 2013 Legacy Limited models. While pricing has not yet been announced, expect an MSRP of about $30,000 for the EyeSight-equipped Legacy Limited when it arrives later this year. Subaru says the technology will follow on other models in its lineup, too.
While automotive safety has improved by leaps and bounds in the past several decades, new ideas and technologies continue to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians from injury. Airbags were first found only on the most expensive luxury vehicles before becoming mandated standard equipment on every new vehicle sold in the U.S. Now, high-tech systems like forward collision warning are trickling down automakers' model lines, helping to protect more people from the potential harm of a crash. As more vehicles are equipped with collision warning technology, studies like the recent one from the IIHS will help to determine if the systems are effective enough to include on all vehicles.
What it means to you: With an increasing number of models offering forward collision warning, safety-minded car shoppers are no longer limited to vehicles priced at $60,000 or more if they want to enjoy its safety advantages.