10 Ways Modern Cars Keep Us Safe

Crash Testing Volvo, side view

Photo courtesy of Motor Trend

If you’ve been inside a newer car lately, it’s very likely you’ve seen some of the awesome safety technologies new cars come with these days. While cars have become more reliable, longer-lasting and more fuel-efficient in recent years, safety is really where cars have grown by leaps and bounds. In the past, it was all cars could do to protect us during a crash. Today, they actively try to prevent crashes.

We decided we wanted to take a closer look at just what cars are doing to keep us safe. While some of the best safety features on the road today have become standard in many cars, some of the coolest have yet to become mainstream. To help give you an idea of what, exactly, cars are doing to keep the airbags from going off, we put together a list of what we think are 10 of the coolest, most interesting and best safety innovations automakers put into cars.

2014 BMW 7 Series

10. If someone told you they were driving down a barren road at night and night vision saved them, you’d think they were in the military, right? Well, they could be, but they could also drive a BMW 7 Series. Armed with BMW Night Vision, the 7 Series has a thermal imaging camera mounted in the grille that captures the road ahead and displays what it sees on a screen for the driver. To make the system even more awesome, the camera can recognize pedestrians (and animals) and will shine one of two Dynamic Light Spots on them to alert both the pedestrian and the driver. The car will also flash a warning on the screen to tell the driver an object has been detected.

2007 Audi Q7

9. In 2007, Audi rolled out Audi Lane Assist, offering it first in the Q7. While other companies had offered lane-assist features in the past, Audi’s system was different. Earlier systems were designed to take control of the car’s steering (to a degree) and keep it in the lane. The Audi system was designed to instead shake the steering wheel when the car was drifting out of a lane, so as to alert the driver without actually altering the vehicle’s path.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

8. One of the most popular features on new cars these days is the heads-up display. When did the heads-up display make its automotive debut? Five years ago? Ten years ago? No and no: The first heads-up display in a car was offered in the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Originally installed in Oldsmobile’s Indy Pace Cars, General Motors decided to offer the displays on production cars, with some examples of the Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix receiving them. Heads-up displays remained a bit of a novelty from their introduction until recently, but with the integration of GPS, maintenance information and pre-collision warnings, they have become an ever more common safety feature in new cars.

2014 Infiniti Q50

7. Many cars these days use cameras and radar to monitor what the car in front of them is doing, but what about the car two cars ahead? Infiniti decided its cars should know and came up with the Predictive Forward Collision System, available on the Infiniti Q50. The system works by bouncing radar off the road underneath the car directly in front of it and subsequently keeping tabs on the car two spots ahead. If that car does anything funny, like brake suddenly, the system gives the driver an audible warning to give the driver time to stop or swerve before the driver of the car directly ahead is forced to slam on its brakes.

2014 Mazda Mazda3

6. While Mazda didn’t include any ground-breaking safety innovations in the 2014 Mazda Mazda3, it did innovate, in a way. Unlike other cars in its class, the Mazda3 is available with a host of safety tech, most of which is usually reserved for much more expensive cars. With blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, forward obstruction warning and a heads-up display all available, the Mazda3 is proving to be a leader in its class, and we’d love to see that leadership turn into more of these safety features being offered by its competitors.

1987 Porsche 944

5. Our next pick isn’t exactly new, but it’s definitely one of the best safety tech features out there: the airbag. While it was invented in 1951, it took a while for the airbag to gain popularity. In fact, it wasn’t until 1987 that Porsche made airbags standard in the Porsche 944 Turbo—the first car sold with driver and passenger airbags standard. Things took off from there, and airbags are now standard equipment in every car sold in the United States.

2013 Cadillac XTS

4. Cadillac has been on a roll as of late, unleashing such glorious creations as the Cadillac CTS and ATS Coupe on the world. While Cadillac is becoming a performance king, it’s also making some great strides in the safety realm, with innovations such as its Driver Assistance Package finding their way to the 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS. Using the car’s other safety monitoring systems, the Driver Assistance Package takes all the feedback it gets and vibrates different parts of the seat to alert the driver to potential hazards. Car in the lane next to you? Don’t worry, your left leg will find out before it’s a problem.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

3. Mercedes-Benz has never shied away from the bold. That’s why the new Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is equipped with the company’s impressive Attention Assist system (the system is offered on many of Stuttgart’s other cars as well). What makes the system so impressive is that it learns over time. It pays attention to its owner’s driving habits and alerts the driver when it seems like he or she is doing something out of the ordinary.

2007 Volvo S80

2. If there’s any company out there that has made its name synonymous with safety, it’s Volvo. The Swedish automaker has built its reputation by keeping passengers safe, coming up with revolutionary innovations such as the 3-point seatbelt (invented by a Volvo engineer and made standard in Volvo cars in 1959). One of the most interesting safety developments to come out of Gothenburg made its debut in the 2007 Volvo S80: blind-spot monitoring. The original system worked by using sensors to determine whether or not there was a car in the driver’s blind spot. If there was, a warning light would appear on the A-pillar. Further, if the driver tried to switch lanes while the system registered another car in the blind spot, the system would flash the blind-spot indicator light, sound a warning and shake the steering wheel.

2004 Lexus LS430

1. Some of the most touted safety innovations these days are pre-crash systems. The first of these popular systems made its way to the U.S. in the 2004 Lexus LS 430 (although Mercedes-Benz was the first company to debut such a system). In fact, to be considered for a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cars must now be equipped with a front crash-prevention system. While the different systems vary greatly, Lexus’s worked by using a radar to monitor the area in front of the car. When the system determined a crash was imminent, it would tighten the seat belts and pre-charge the brakes, giving the driver maximum stopping ability as soon as he or she pressed the brake pedal. These systems have evolved greatly over the past decade, and many are now capable of braking the car without driver input in order to avoid crashes below certain speeds.

What is your favorite piece of car safety tech? Your least favorite?

-zwaller

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Used BMW 7 Series
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Used Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Used Volvo S80
Used Lexus LS 430

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