Car Buying

5 High-Tech Car Safety Features You Shouldn't Do Without

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author photo by Russ Heaps March 2014

Safety features in cars are expensive, which is why automakers are often slow to adopt high-tech features that can add hundreds of dollars to the price of a car.

Here are five emerging safety components growing in availability that we believe belong on your should-have list when shopping for a car.

Inflatable Seat Belts

Deploying like airbags, these seat belts inflate in a crash, spreading the impact force over an area five times larger than a conventional seat belt. And, like airbags, they inflate in milliseconds. Not only do they cushion the torso during a crash, but they minimize head and neck motion, reducing those injuries as well. Ford, which includes inflatable seat belts in some models, says they are particularly beneficial to children and older passengers.

Ford began offering this feature in the second-row seat of Explorer in 2011, then expanded availability to other Ford and Lincoln models. Mercedes-Benz will offer them in some models, too.

Lane-Departure Warning/Correction

A majority of single-car accidents occur when the car runs off the road, and a substantial number of head-on collisions result from a car drifting into the oncoming lane. Using video or radar/laser technology, lane-departure warning (LDW) monitors the car's location in relation to the edges of its lane and sounds a warning when it strays outside those boundaries. Some systems -- like that of the redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 -- go as far as to nudge the vehicle back on course.

Nearly every automaker offers a form of LDW on at least some of its models.

Head-Up Display

Head-up display (HUD) is a system that projects data on the windshield just below the driver's sight line. Appearing roughly four feet in front of the driver and 8 to 10 inches above the car's hood, the transparent information can include vehicle speed, turn signals, blind spot monitoring, turn-by-turn navigation, audio settings and more. HUD reduces the time a driver's attention is away from the road, and that helps prevent accidents. Distracted driving includes everything from texting to turning around to yell at the kids, and the injuries from distraction-related accidents were up 9 percent in 2012 over 2011.

It's currently available in 38 models, according to Automotive News.

Front/Rear Parking Sensors

For a 5-foot, 8-inch tall driver, the blind spot behind a vehicle can extend from 9 feet for a hatchback to 24 feet for a pickup truck. Plenty of obstacles can lurk there.

Although there are a few different types of systems used to warn drivers as they approach a solid object when parking, basically they operate by sending out pulses or waves, then measuring the return rate of those signals. The quicker the return, the closer the object. When engaged, the system usually uses a beeping sound that increases in frequency as the object grows closer.

Frontal Crash Warning/Avoidance

Driver distraction is the cause of many rear-end crashes. Frontal crash warning (FCW) uses radar or cameras to scan the road ahead, feeding the information to a computer that is constantly calculating the distance between the equipped car and whatever is ahead. When the distance decreases too quickly -- especially if the driver doesn't depress the brake -- an alarm will sound. With some systems, the FCW will automatically apply the brakes.

Buying a new car is the ideal time to brush up on the newest available safety features. A few are offered only in high-end models or pricey options packages, but you may be surprised at how accessible some of them are.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
5 High-Tech Car Safety Features You Shouldn't Do Without - Autotrader