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Car Safety - Car Safety Innovations

Car Safety


Updated March 28, 2011

There have been quite a few improvements to car safety since the addition of seat belts and air bags to cars.

Some of the more recent car safety innovations include having a trunk release mechanism to prevent trunk entrapment and rear view cameras and screens or a backup sensor system can help alert you to a child or other object behind your car.

Car Safety Innovations

What's next?

Car seat safety guidelines issued in 2011 from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend that kids stay in a booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches) tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age, when regular seat belts are most likely to fit properly. That likely has parents wondering why regular seat belts can't be made to fit younger kids better so that they don't have to use booster seats so long. If the height can be adjusted on a seat belt, why not the position of the lap belt, or the seat itself?

Car safety innovations that allow kids to sit safely without booster seats are likely some time away, but here are some new safety features that may make your kids safer:

  • Inflatable Seat Belts - inflatable rear seat belts are available on the 2011 Ford Explorer and will eventually be available on more cars. What are inflatable seat belts? Think seat belts with built-in mini-airs bags installed in them that will deploy in a crash. These inflatable seat belts, which use a cold compressed gas system to inflate, can be used with car seats and booster seats.

  • Height-Adjustable Seat Belts - many new cars now come with height-adjustable retractable seat belts with pretensioners. Since these don't also adjust the position of the lap seat belt, parents should be careful that they don't move their kids out of their booster seat too early because they are using an adjusted seat belt though.

  • Integrated Booster Seats - help ensure that your older child uses a booster seat by using one that is integrated into the car's seat and then folds away once you are done using it.

New Car Safety Features

Many other car safety innovations aren't related to seat belts or putting more air bags into cars, but simply help you avoid car crashes in the first place. Although mostly available on luxury cars, these innovations may become more commonplace in new cars in the future, and include:

  • Acura Collision Mitigation Braking System - will warn of a possible collision and will automatically brake if the crash becomes unavoidable.
  • Audi Side Assist - LED lights on exterior mirrors that alerts Audi drivers to vehicles in their blind spot and any fast approaching vehicles to make changing lanes safer.
  • Audi Pre-Sense Plus - a four-phase system that begins by warning you of a crash and ends with automatic braking to decrease the force of the crash.
  • Automotive Night Vision - systems that allow you to see further at night and especially help to alert you to people on the road.
  • BMW Assist Advanced eCall - an emergency call system with automatic localization and accident severity detection (number of airbags deployed, etc.) which contacts a BMW call center if you have been in an accident.
  • Ford BLIS - a blind spot information system that can warn you if a car enters your blind spot.
  • Honda Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) - can predict and alert drivers if they are about to rear-end another vehicle. If a rear-end crash is unavoidable, then your car starts to brake and the seat belts tighten.
  • Mercedes-Benz PRE-SAFE and PRE-SAFE Brake - automatic measures that go into effect if a crash is anticipated, such as seat belt tensioning, automatic partial braking, and automatic emergency braking.
  • Mercedes-Benz Active Blind Spot Assist - can alert you to vehicles in your blind spot if you are driving faster than 20 mph and can help to keep you in your lane if you try to turn into another car in your blind spot.
  • Mercedes-Benz Distronic Plus - an adaptive cruise control system that slows down your car, and will even automatically stop, if you get too close to another car while using cruise control.
  • Opel Eye - Opel Eye, which is not available in the United States, recognizes traffic signs, including speed limit signs, and can warn drivers when they stray out of their lane.
  • Peugeot Connect SOS - like other services, it automatically sends an emergency call if your air bag deploys or your seat belts activate -- plus sets up a voice connection with the call center, but no subscription is required.
  • Volkswagen Lane Assist - lane keeping assistance technology that takes corrective active if you begin to stray out of your lane. It's not available in the United States yet.
  • Volvo City Safety - can decrease low-speed (slower than 20 mph) rear-end collisions by detecting stopped or slower moving objects in front of you and automatically applying the brakes.
  • Volvo Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake - like automotive night vision systems on other cars, this system can detect if someone is in your path, but will also automatically stop your car to avoid a collision.

Other systems by Ford, Toyota, Lexus, and Nissan can warn of collisions and pre-charge the brakes, but don't automatically stop your car before a crash. This is still helpful though, as it helps to increase the braking pressure and make sure you brake with full force during a crash.

There are also similar systems on other cars, such as the Volvo Lane Departure Warning, which will alert you if you are leaving your lane, but doesn't take corrective action, like Volkswagen Lane Assist.

Future Car Safety Innovations

While some people are still waiting for personal jet packs or a car that drives itself, probably having something to do with Google, I would be happy with any innovations that help us avoid crashes and that keep us as safe as possible if we do get in a crash.

The best of these car safety features will hopefully become less expensive and will become standard on all new cars.

Looking for new car safety features, in addition to reviewing the top safety picks of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, can be a good way to choose a safe car for your family until we get the future safe car.

What's missing?

A child-occupant warning system to alert people if they have left a child behind in a car seat is something that many safety experts would like to see, in hopes that it would prevent the seemingly inevitable kids in hot car stories that we read about time and again. Many people think that a fear of lawsuits or maybe even bad publicity, if the system fails and a child dies, is keeping this new car safety innovation from coming to a new car, just like Volkswagen's Lane Assist technology.


Ford Motor Company. Ford introduces industry's first inflatable seat belts to enhance rear seat safety. January 2011. Accessed March 2011.

European New Car Assessment Programme. Euro NCAP reveals today's best safety innovations. October 2010. Accessed March 2011.

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