PhotoWhile the federal government delays and dithers about rear-view cameras, the cameras and many other safety and performance systems are no longer limited to high-end luxury cars.

Many 2012 model cars and trucks include as options or standard equipment sophisticated technology that just a few years ago was available only on high-end luxury cars.

The rear-view cameras are a perfect example.  Intended to reduce tragic "backover" accidents that often involve children, the cameras are available as standard equipment on 45 percent of 2012 models, according to automotive research site The cameras are an optional feature on 23 percent of models.

“Technologies like anti-lock braking and stability control were once seen as pioneering innovations and are now either required or come as standard features on new cars,” said Martha M. Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Once these safety and performance technologies are developed and the costs for them continues to decline, it is our hope that they will be included on as many vehicles as possible.”

AAA cited the following features as ones which are now often included as standard on 2012 model vehicles:

Brake Assist This feature, now standard equipment in some vehicles, recognizes when a driver has just instituted an emergency stop. The system then applies full braking power, even if the driver has not pressed the brake pedal hard enough to do this. If the driver backs off the brakes, the system steps out of the picture.

This feature was first offered in some vehicles in the mid-90s after studies showed that even experienced drivers were reluctant to use all the braking power built into their vehicles during an emergency.

Parking Proximity Warning Systems and Backup Cameras These features let a driver know when he or she is getting close to an object and/or show the path the car is taking. Using sensors, the warning system identifies items, animals or people, including small children that the driver cannot see because his or her view is blocked by parts of the vehicle. The backup camera shows the area directly behind the vehicle when in reverse.

Originally a luxury car exclusive, today parking sensors and back up cameras are far more common, even on popularly priced vehicles.

PhotoLane Departure Warning Systems A safety feature that lets a driver know they have begun to cross over lane markers without signaling, lane departure warning systems use cameras to sense the lane markings on pavement. It will issue a warning that can be audible or take the form of a vibration in the steering wheel. Originally offered on top Infiniti models, lane departure warning systems are now more widely available.

Active Cruise Control This feature, once a luxury car exclusive, uses radar or laser to maintain a set distance from the car ahead. If a driver using such a system encounters slower traffic, the cruise control will automatically reduce speed by backing off the throttle. If the traffic clears or speeds up, the active cruise control will return to the driver’s original speed.

Newer systems can also apply the brakes when needed to maintain a safe following distance. In some cases the active cruise control system will actually bring the car to a stop if the traffic ahead stops. Active cruise control is now offered as an option on a wide range of vehicles, including those that cost less than $30,000.

Driver Alert Warning System Originally introduced on costly luxury models, this system looks for signs of an inattentive or tired driver.  There are several ways to monitor the alertness or attention of a driver that range from lane departure to monitoring the driver’s movements via cameras. Despite differences in monitoring technology, when the vehicle senses drowsiness or inattention it warns the driver to take a break.

Blind Spot Warning Systems This warning system uses a radar or camera to detect and warn a driver that another vehicle is lurking just out of view in an adjacent lane. Often, an amber light on the appropriate mirror is illuminated when a vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot. If the driver signals to move in that direction, an audible alert or flashing light is activated as a warning.

First seen in costly vehicles, it is now standard equipment is some family vehicles, including several Mazda models.

Weight Reduction Weight reduction is an important feature for all automakers regardless of make or model. This is one area in which lower-priced cars were the pioneers while many luxury car makers and buyers stuck to the theory that heavier is better.

Today, luxury cars from makers such as Audi and Jaguar have adopted aluminum and other lightweight materials to reduce weight. The benefit of lower vehicle weight is better performance from the same engine and suspension package and increased fuel economy in all driving conditions. 

Stop-Start This is a feature that is well known to any hybrid vehicle owner and drivers in Europe. This technology automatically stops the gasoline engine while the driver waits for a red light to turn green. It saves fuel while reducing emissions. Kia may soon bring this technology to non-hybrid applications in two of their low-priced cars, the Soul and Rio. 

Expect expanded use of this technology in the next few years as vehicle manufacturers work to meet the higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set for 2016.


Departure warning system photo credit:

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