A recent New York Times article described many of the safety features in modern cars which drivers may not be aware of. Noting that pedestrian deaths from automobiles rose from 4,109 in 2009 to 6,283 in 2018, the report cautioned that this rise was due in part to the popularity of SUVS and pickup trucks, whose higher hoods and bumpers pose an increased risk to pedestrians. Still, the same period has seen an increased usage by automakers in an array of safety technology. A few listed by the Times include:
- Automatic emergency braking that detects pedestrians and cyclists;
- Automatic high-beams, which increase pedestrian detection;
- A warning system that signals the driver when they are drifting into a new lane;
- Lane keeping assistance, which helps drivers center their vehicles in the lane;
- Blind spot warning systems;
- Rear cross-path detection systems, which detects traffic and pedestrians behind the vehicle.
The report also discusses technology that’s not available in the US, such as “adaptive headlights” used by vehicles in the EU. These are headlights with sensors that “detect oncoming traffic and shade those vehicles from the incredibly bright LED units while illuminating the road ahead at full power.” There’s also a class element to who gets to enjoy safety features first. As the Times observes, many safety features drivers enjoy today “trickle[d] down from luxury cars,” such as technology for avoiding T-bone collisions and sensors that allow for automatic braking to avoid collisions.
According to the report, federal data suggests these safety features have yielded results. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s traffic fatality figures reveal that traffic fatalities fell from 2016 to 2019—from 37,461 to 36,120—even as the number of vehicle miles traveled increased. This is also due in part to safer crumple zones, the use of high-strength steel, and an increase in the number of airbags in cars. Most have six, according to the Times, although some have as many as ten. Then there are “driver attention systems” that monitor whether drivers are moving the steering wheel, and which can help mitigate distracted or drowsy driving accidents. Meanwhile Volvo offers a “Run Off Road” system, which uses wheel sensors to detect when a car is “heading into a ditch” and tightens seatbelts until the car stops. “If the impact is severe, airbags deploy and the brake pedal retracts. The seat frame is designed to collapse downward to reduce spinal injury.”
Other features include warning systems in GM and Nissan cars that inform drivers if they left children (or items) in the rear seat, by keeping track of whether back doors open at the beginning of a trip. Some manufacturers, like Hyundai and Kia, use an “ultrasonic motion sensor” to detect movement inside the car when it’s locked, and sound the horn or send the driver a text message.
More information on these features is available via the New York Times.