It’s tempting to dismiss the notion of driverless cars as a far-flung fantasy that few drivers would embrace and even fewer could afford. But autonomous driving technology is already here. It crept into our national consciousness in the form of advanced safety systems designed to slow, stop or turn the equipped vehicle to avoid an accident and to detect operator error or the presence of other vehicles and pedestrians.
Until recently, many of those systems were only available to luxury-car buyers. Volvo has maintained its reputation as a leader in safety by being first to market with a number of active safety innovations, including blind-spot detection and forward collision-avoidance, and its highline competitors have kept pace.
Recently, vehicle safety technology has found its way into standard and optional equipment packages in mass-market vehicles. Read on for the latest safety tech available in the current compact and mid-size sedans built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Also known as “pre-collision” and “collision-mitigating” technology, forward-collision avoidance systems use primarily radar-based sensors to detect vehicles or pedestrians stopped or crossing in front of an equipped vehicle. Development began at a private research firm in the late ’90s. By the mid-2000s, a number of automakers, including Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volvo, had proprietary systems in the works.
Today, it’s difficult to find a manufacturer that doesn’t offer forward-collision avoidance. However, only a few have installed the equipment fleet-wide.
Toyota now equips every vehicle, including the compact Corolla and mid-size Camry, with the “Smart Stop Technology” solution it began developing as early as 2003.
Honda is credited with being the first to manufacture a mass-produced system that not only detects collisions but also tightens seat belts and adds braking power. The OEM’s “Collision Mitigation Braking System” (part of the larger “Honda Sensing” suite) is built into every new Civic and Accord. The technology gives the driver a chance to react to an alert before autonomously applying the brakes.
Volkswagen’s “Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking” works along similar lines and is available as part of a “Driver Assistance Package” on the compact Jetta and mid-size Passat.
All Jettas and Passats also are equipped with an “Automatic Post-Collision Braking System.” When a collision is detected, it engages the brakes to prevent the equipped vehicle from rolling into further danger.
Hyundai’s “Forward Collision Warning” system is optional on the Sonata Limited and standard on the Limited 2.0T.
Nissan offers “Predictive Forward Collision Warning” and “Forward Emergency Braking” only on SL versions of the mid-size Altima.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) began offering “Full-Speed Forward-Collision Warning” on the 200 and 300 in 2014, but it has yet to port the technology to the compact Dodge Dart. The larger Dodge Charger does come with optional or standard “Cross Path Detection” on top-of-the-line SRT editions.
“Forward Collision Warning” is optional on the SE and Titanium editions of the mid-size Ford Fusion but has yet to reach the smaller Focus.
GM has made “Forward Collision Alert” available on the new-for-2016 Chevrolet Cruze compact as well as the LT and Premier trims of the mid-size Malibu.
In May 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decided to make rearview (aka “backup”) cameras mandatory in all U.S. vehicles by 2018. It was an important step toward reducing the hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries suffered by pedestrians in back-over incidents every year.
But other vehicles also cross behind parked cars, and that’s where rear-cross-traffic alerts come in. These systems use radar sensors to detect other vehicles approaching the rear of an equipped vehicle from either side. They are becoming popular in mass-market sedans, particularly in the mid-size segment.
Volkswagen’s “Rear Traffic Alert” is an option on the mid-size Passat as well as the compact Jetta as part of the aforementioned Driver Assistance Package.
“Rear Cross-Traffic Alert” is available in the Chevrolet Cruze and the LT and Premier editions of the Malibu.
Hyundai made “Rear Cross-traffic Alert” standard on the Sonata Limited, Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T and optional on the Sonata Sport.
Nissan’s “Rear Cross Traffic Alert” is standard on the mid-size Altima 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL and 3.5 SL, but isn’t available on other trims.
Toyota makes “Rear Cross-Traffic Alert” optional only on the Camry XLE and XSE, excluding the LE and SE.
“Rear Cross Path Detection” is optional on the Dodge Charger SRT 392 and standard on the SRT Hellcat. “Cross-Traffic Alert” is available in the mid-size Ford Fusion but not in the compact Focus.
Blind-spot monitors were designed to alert drivers to the presence of another vehicle when changing lanes, closing the visual gap between the rear and side mirrors. They typically provide visual or audible warnings.
Nissan and other manufacturers have experimented with countersteering measures, but that technology has, as of yet, been mostly confined to lane-departure systems (see next section).
“Blind Spot Detection” is optional on the Hyundai Sonata Sport and standard on Limited, Sport 2.0T and Limited 2.0T; a blind-spot mirror is optional on the base SE edition of the compact Elantra and standard across the rest of the lineup.
“Blind Spot Monitor” is optional on the VW Jetta and Passat.
Nissan’s “Blind Spot Warning” is standard on 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL and 3.5 SL editions of the mid-size Altima. “Blind Spot Monitor” is available only in XLE and XSE editions of the Toyota Camry.
Integrated blind-spot mirrors are standard across the Ford Fusion and Focus lineups. Available Driver Assist and Titanium Technology packages add the “Blind Spot Information System” to the Fusion and Focus, respectively.
“Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert” is available as part of a “Driver Confidence Package” on the top-end LT and Premier editions of the mid-size Chevrolet Malibu and compact Cruze.
Honda uses “LaneWatch,” a camera mounted under the passenger-side mirror, to monitor the starboard blind spot. The view appears on the touchscreen of equipped Accords and Civics when that turn signal is activated or at the push of a button. LaneWatch is standard on EX and Touring editions of the Accord and Civic.
Fleet operators who send drivers on long trips down America’s highways should be particularly enthusiastic about the advent of lane-departure alerts. These systems use one or more cameras to detect road markings in the vehicle’s path. All are designed to warn sleepy or distracted drivers when they begin to drift out of their chosen lane (or off the road) without signaling.
Toyota’s “Lane Departure Alert” is available as part of an option package only on XLE and XSE editions of the mid-size Camry.
Hyundai makes “Lane Departure Warning” available as an option on the Sonata Limited and standard on the Limited 2.0T.
Mentioned previously, GM’s “Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert” also detects fast-approaching vehicles from up to 230 feet away. The feature is available on the Cruze LT and Premier trim levels.
Some OEMs go the extra mile with systems designed to autonomously steer the vehicle back to safety. That list includes Honda, whose “Lane Keeping Assist System” is available across the Accord and Civic lineups and is standard equipment on the top-of-the-line Touring editions.
Volkswagen’s “Lane Assist” system countersteers at speeds above 40 miles per hour and is available on the mid-size Passat.
Chevrolet’s “Lane Keep Assist” is available on LT and Premier editions of the Malibu.
Additionally, R/T Road & Track and R/T Scat Pack editions of the Dodge Charger can be equipped with “Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist,” which includes corrective steering measures.
Ford offers a similar system, “Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assist,” on most models, including the mid-size Fusion and compact Focus.
Automatic High Beams
Automatic (or “active”) high beams are designed to make the high-beam setting easier to use and prevent it from blinding other drivers. When the high beams are engaged, the systems can detect the presence of an oncoming vehicle, switch back to standard illumination and then re-engage the high beams once the vehicle has passed.
The technology is very popular among luxury carmakers and has begun to trickle down to mass-market offerings.
Dodge’s Technology Group includes “Automatic Hi-Beam Control” and is available on most Chargers as well as the Dart GT and Limited.
“Automatic High Beam” is available on the Toyota Camry XLE and SLE as part of an option package.
“Auto High Beams” are included in VW’s Driver Assistance Package, which is available on the Jetta and the Passat.
Hyundai’s “Automatic High Beam Assist” is optional on the Sonata Limited and standard on the Limited 2.0T.
Chevrolet’s “Driver Confidence” option package includes “Automatic High-Beam Headlamps” and is available on LT and Premier editions of the mid-size Malibu.
Adaptive Cruise Control
The 1958 Imperial (Chrysler’s erstwhile luxury marque) is generally considered to have been the first U.S. vehicle to offer cruise control. Since then, for the most part, the technology has only been as useful as traffic conditions warrant: When the road ahead gets crowded, it’s time to disengage.
Not so with adaptive cruise control. These systems use onboard sensors to automatically adjust vehicle speed to maintain a safe following distance. The technology represents a major step toward driverless cars.
Honda now offers “Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow” on every Accord and Civic; the equipment is standard on the Touring edition of both cars.
Dodge makes “Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop” available as part of a “Technology Group” package on most editions of the mid-size Charger and GT and Limited trim levels of the compact Dart.
“Full-Speed-Range” adaptive cruise control is available only on top-of-the-line 2LTZ and Premier editions of the Chevrolet Malibu.
VW’s Driver Assistance Package includes “Adaptive Cruise Control” and is optional on the mid-size Passat and compact Jetta.
Several manufacturers only offer adaptive cruise control on mid-size sedans.
Toyota’s “Dynamic Radar Cruise Control” is available as part of an option package on the XLE and XSE editions of the Camry.
Hyundai offers “Smart Cruise Control with Stop/Start Capability” on the Sonata Limited and makes it standard on the Limited 2.0T.
Nissan’s “Intelligent Cruise Control” is optional on the Altima 2.5 SL.
“Adaptive Cruise Control” is available on the Ford Fusion’s SE and Titanium models.
Active Steering Assist
The next generation of power steering began in the 2004-MY, when BMW introduced “Active Steering” as part of the Sport package on the redesigned 5 Series. The technology was designed to adjust for velocity when calculating driver inputs, allowing for subtler (and, presumably, safer) wheel movement at higher speeds.
Ford made headlines in 2014 with the debut of its “Adaptive Steering System” on a specially equipped Fusion. The OEM announced plans to roll the system out on multiple models, starting with the 2016 Ford Edge.
General Motors followed suit last year with the announcement that its “Active Steering Assist” would debut on the 2016 GMC Sierra 2500/3500 pickup.