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Car Safety Technology: A Buyer's Guide

These 14 innovations are worth seeking out

En español | Cutting-edge technology — in some cases, the same type used by Navy SEALs — is making the cars we drive safer for everyone, but particularly for older drivers. If you're in the market for a new car, ask about the following features, many of which give drivers more control and better vision.

African American woman rear view mirror, safe car features


Cutting-edge technology is making the cars we drive safer for everyone.

No one would argue that having more eyes on the road isn't better, right? These systems use cameras and motion sensors to give drivers a better sense of what's coming at them, which can help them react in time to avoid mishaps.

1. Night Vision: Infrared and thermal imaging technology (this is the technology used by SEALs) lets drivers see several hundred yards down the road in darkness by displaying an image of the road and potential hazards on the car's navigation system screen.

2. Pedestrian Detection: Thank the Navy's infrared technology again, this time for a system that acts as a second set of eyes on the road, scanning for objects in the car's path and sounding an alarm if anything is detected.

3. Lane Departure Warning: A forward-facing camera keeps a virtual eye on road lane markers, sounding an alarm if the car crosses lanes. Some systems will automatically brake the car and bring it back into its lane.

4. Blind Spot Warning: This is a monitor of the lanes next to yours; if you begin to steer into a lane that has a vehicle hidden in your blind spot, the system provides both a visual and audible alert.

5. Rear- and Top-View Cameras: Rear-view cameras have become popular with older drivers, as they don't require neck flexibility to safely reverse the car. Top-view cameras take the technology forward, giving a 360-degree virtual view from the vehicle while in motion.

6. Self-Parking: Want to become an expert parallel parker with very little effort? The system controls steering and braking to make sure your car is snug in its parking spot. Nearly hands-free.

And what is driving if not control? Technological advances such as the ones that follow now give drivers an ability to control variables that was once impossible, making for easier driving in wind, rain and generally tough conditions.

Next page: Cool features that counteract weather conditions, keep you safer when using cruise control and more. »

7. Auto-Leveling Suspension: When you're driving in high crosswinds, the system automatically adjusts the suspension of the vehicle to counteract the conditions. It's an increasingly popular feature on large SUVs.

8. Active Cruise Control: Using radar, active cruise control keeps your vehicle a safe distance from the car directly ahead. It can also bring your car to a complete and quick stop if the driver in front of you slams on the brakes.

9. Self-Drying Brakes: In rainy conditions, cars with wet brakes take longer to stop. Self-drying systems intermittently brake very lightly every few seconds in wet conditions, whisking water away from the disc rotors.

10. Emergency Braking Assist: The system can sense how hard you press on the brake pedal; if extra force is detected, the brakes get a boost, giving you even more emergency stopping power.

11. Heads-Up Display: Ever find yourself glancing away from the road to check your speed or change the radio station? Heads-up display projects information such as your speed onto the windshield, reducing the need to take your eyes off the road.

12. Adaptive Headlights: By illuminating the path your car will follow, adaptive headlights can reduce the chance of a surprise around the corner. Automotive pioneer Preston Tucker had the idea way back in 1948, but it's only recently been perfected. The lights also automatically level, adjusting for dips and rises in the road.

13. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems: Basic tire pressure monitoring systems sound an alarm or provide some other alert if a tire is low or suddenly losing pressure. More sophisticated systems tell you exactly how much air is in each tire.

14. Hill Start Assist: For manual transmission drivers who get nervous going uphill, hill start assist gives you a few more seconds to get on the gas and let out the clutch. It's available for incline-anxious automatic transmission owners as well.