New crash avoidance technology is becoming more effective in protecting passengers in several types of crashes, according to the findings of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study obtained by ABC News.

The new crash avoidance technologies include features that offer the driver a visual or audio alert signaling he or she should take corrective action to avoid an imminent accident. Other more active measures allow the car's computer to intervene and apply the brakes to prevent a collision.

Another system includes forward collision warning, which alerts a driver to brake more quickly when he or she is closing in on a car ahead. Others include:

  • blind spot detection to make drivers aware of vehicles in adjacent lanes;
  • headlights that map to the steering wheel so that they adjust as the car turns; and
  • lane departure warning, which alerts the driver if the vehicle is drifting off of the road unintentionally.

Equipping vehicles with this technology could result in the prevention or reduced severity of as many as 32 percent of the 5.8 million crashes that occur annually.

Stephen Kozak, Ford Motor Co.'s global safety chief engineer, called the technology a "game changer," because safety features have moved from seat belts and airbags inside the vehicle, to outside the vehicle with technology that helps the driver avoid the accident rather than protecting once an accident has happened.

Volvo's XC60 SUV includes technology called "city safety," a system for preventing low-speed collisions on roads congested with traffic. The city safety system is geared toward preventing or lessening the number of accidents that occur at 19 miles per hour or less.

Dependent on laser sensor monitors, city safety can sense when the vehicle in front of the SUV abruptly stops and if the brakes are not applied immediately by the driver, the car will automatically activate the brakes. One limitation of the laser technology is that it can be obscured by precipitation.

The new Infiniti M performance luxury sedan will offer a side-collision-prevention system to alert the driver if a vehicle is detected in his or her blind spot.

While the technology is most prevalent in luxury vehicles, some features are now being offered in more mainstream vehicles such as the 2010 Ford Taurus.

One potential risk is that the advanced safety system could cause people to pay less attention on the road.

"If people get used to this technology taking care of them, they might start paying less attention, thinking they can drive faster, that they don't have to obey speed limit, that the car would take care of them," said Lund. "That would lead to a big problem."