Few things in motoring are changing as much as safety. It’s not just that your chances of surviving a crash are far higher in a 2015 model than an older car, it’s also that you have a much better chance of avoiding the crash in the first place. Maybe more significantly, the whole philosophy of safety is changing.
New safety ideas used to be introduced in the most expensive models, taking five or 10 years to trickle down to popular models. For example the first Mercedes-Benz with anti-lock braking was the S-class of 1978.
Lesser Benzes got the feature years later and ABS reached cars such as Nissan’s Pulsar in the early 1990s (but only the expensive ones). It was the same with airbags and automatic stability control until company fleets, and even some government fleets, said they wouldn’t buy cars without them.
Now clever safety features are finding their way into the big sellers faster than ever in the industry’s history and it’s because buyers are insisting on them. Cars that don’t have them are harder to sell. Simple as that.
So what are the latest safety features and which do you need?
Blind spot warning
If a trailing car is in your blind spot a warning displays, often on the wing mirror itself, and if you move towards the trailing car’s path an audible warning can follow.
This is handy for anyone who doesn’t set up their wing mirrors properly. If you do (and you use them), you don’t need it.
Lane departure warning
Handy on long, boring stretches of road like the Hume Freeway. If you start to wander out of your lane, you’ll be warned. Some systems sound an alarm (which is a tad embarrassing when you have passengers), some put a silent but noticeable vibration through the steering wheel.
It’s handy if you wander while searching in-car entertainment options or arguing with the navigation, and who hasn’t? If your indicators are blinking, the computer assumes you want to change lanes and doesn’t warn you.
Daytime running lights
Compulsory in some parts of Europe, these come on automatically whenever you drive.
Sensors (radar or cameras) detect when you’re closing too fast on a car or an object directly ahead. They sound an alarm and, if that doesn’t wake you up, they perform a full emergency stop. At low speeds it’s enough to stop short of whatever’s in front, at higher speeds you’ll still hit it, but the damage (and any injuries) will be mitigated.
A great idea but some systems are over-sensitive, even sounding a warning on approach to a sharp dip in the road. Volvo’s system detects pedestrians and cyclists, and the company is even working on a kangaroo detector.
This projects selected data, such as speed, navigation instructions and cruise-control status, onto the windscreen in front of you to keep your eyes on the road. A great idea but don’t try to show it off to your passengers, they won’t be able to see it.
Adaptive cruise control
Another one for the Hume Freeway. Set the cruise at whatever speed you prefer and it will keep you there until it detects a slower vehicle ahead. It will then slow, maybe even brake, to maintain a pre-set distance between it and you, right up until you pull out to overtake when it will bump you up to your set speed again. It makes cruising more relaxed as well as safer.
A must for larger SUVs. As long as you don’t ignore it, this won’t just save you from reversing over a child, a toy or an abandoned bicycle, it also makes reverse-parking lots easier, especially when the vehicle’s trajectory is shown on the screen.
Tyre pressure monitors
Mostly fitted to cars with run-flat tyres but after-market kits are available from some major tyre retailers. These monitor the pressure in each tyre (including the spare if you want) and warn when it’s getting low.
Under-inflated tyres can make the car’s handling and braking wonky and create drag, using more fuel and wearing faster.
Some cars now have bonnets that lift up and away from the engine below them on detecting a pedestrian impact, creating a softer landing for whoever has been hit.
Things you didn’t know about motoring
The world’s first car insurance policy was sold in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1897.