In-car technology has come a long way in a short time. Only a few decades ago, auto makers were boasting airbags as the latest state-of-the-art safety feature. Today the airbag still plays a big part in keeping drivers safe, but there is a whole host of new vehicle safety technologies making its way into the market, aimed at removing the human-error factor and preventing collisions.
Collision avoidance or warning systems have been a recent focus of in-car technology. Manufacturer research and development aims to make vehicles safer by reducing driver reaction times in emergency braking situations and in some cases to remove the need for drivers to react at all. Safety systems and technologies vary between auto makers, but the principle is to use cameras or sensors (often laser or radar) to detect when a vehicle is approaching another vehicle too closely or too quickly. The system will typically send audio or visual cues to the driver to warn them of an impending collision.
On more advanced technology systems, brakes are applied, seat belts pre-tensioned, and windows closed all automatically by the on-board computerized safety system. This technology is perfect for keeping the family safe on those winter ski trips to Aspen with the car loaded full of gear when the driving conditions can be hazardous and visibility poor.
The same in-car technology is being used to avoid accidents involving lane changes and blind spots in side rearview mirrors. Blind zone alert and lane departure systems also use sensors to warn drivers of objects traveling in blind spots that would otherwise require drivers to remove their eyes from the road to find. A long night's drive out to the Grand Canyon can leave you fatigued, and a car sitting in the blind spot of your mirror can be an easy oversight with terrible consequences. Blind zone alert is an extra set of eyes that won't lose its wits after a nine-hour drive.
Though not exactly new technology, reverse cameras now come with cross-traffic warning safety systems to prevent you from reversing out of a parking spot and into oncoming traffic. Audio and visual signals typically alert drivers of any approaching vehicles due to cross their path, giving drivers a chance to stop and avoid a collision. Again, vehicle sensor technology is used to detect and prevent an all-too-common and potentially dangerous situation.
In-car technology is not restricted to preventing major collisions; it is also used in park assist systems, now standard on many vehicles. Working on the same principle as collision avoidance, these safety systems offer audio and visual directions and alarms to warn drivers that they are too close to cars parked nearby. More advanced systems can literally park the car automatically at the press of a button. Navigating the local Walmart car park with crying children in the back seat is now less stressful thanks to technology that is the virtual version of having your own personal valet.
Voice-activated smart technology, similar to the technology used in modern smartphones, is now being used to operate in-car audio and navigation devices. In addition to convenience, this technology means less time spent looking at the vehicle's audio and navigational systems to operate them and more time spent with your eyes safely on the road. Most vehicle manufacturers have their own version of an infotainment system, but technologies such as Buick's IntelliLink allow you to program your music or your navigation system with voice commands rather than by fiddling with distracting dials and buttons.
Collision avoidance systems, vehicle technologies that keep drivers and others safe, are the way of the future. Testing is already under way on a wireless system that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other and other technologies such as traffic signals, road signs, and curb sensors. This type of technology helps to keep vehicles on the road driving more safely and traffic moving more smoothly.
Though agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) grab headlines with new studies and standards, it is not only the government who is demanding safer vehicles. An ORC International survey discussed in Forbes found that 88 percent of people would pay extra to have lane departure warning, and 77 percent would pay extra for forward collision warning systems on their vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers are listening to these demands and are now energetically competing to build safer vehicles through the application of in-car vehicle technology. The next big safety technology advances and the prospect of self-driving cars are sure to be exciting prospects for those interested in making their vehicles and daily commute safer.