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A No-Nonsense Guide to the Car of Today

There’s a lot of buzz about self-driving cars making their way to your local dealer. Five years ago we were told we would see them arrive in 2017. Well, here we are. Where are our robotic chauffeurs? …We may have been oversold on hyperbole, but there are many truly great innovations available right now in the car of today that mainstream consumers are only vaguely aware of.

Auto manufacturers are designing an increasing number of advanced driver assist systems, with the end goal being fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths. Much like when seatbelts, airbags, and anti-lock braking systems were first introduced, these driver assistance systems will be introduced as options at first, but will undoubtedly become standard equipment in the coming years.

These assist systems go by different names from manufacturer to manufacturer. So, when you’re shopping for your next car, ask to see the list of these technologies to determine exactly what’s available, either as options or standard equipment. And feel free to use your knowledge of some of these terms to wow the sales staff while you’re at it.

Adaptive Cruise Control

A sensor-controlled radar system that automatically adjusts your car’s speed to keep a safe distance from the cars ahead. Adaptive cruise control does not use GPS, road sensors, or other infrastructure, and does not require communication with any other vehicle to operate. So it’s kind of like having the car from Knight Rider. But with a little less action. And less witty banter.

Adaptive Steering

Power steering is common on all vehicles, allowing for steering that feels, well, powerful. Makes sense. Adaptive steering, however, does something different – adjusting the steering based on driving conditions. When at low speeds in town, or while parking, adaptive steering helps you turn the wheel fewer times to get to your end destination. Out on the road, the steering will be tighter so the car is not as affected by gusts of wind, difficult road conditions, or evil genius-designed weather machines. Just in case.

Advanced Brake Assist

This system works in conjunction with forward collision warning and the collision mitigation Braking System to assist in bringing your car to a safe stop in an emergency. Through sensors, advanced brake assist recognizes a panic stop is taking place and works with the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) to reduce stopping distances and help the driver keep the car under control. We could make some joke about working out the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) and our ab muscles, but we’ll stop short…

Automatic Post-Collision Braking System

During an accident, your car does not always stop immediately. The automatic post-collision braking system (in conjunction with the airbag sensors) will automatically engage the brakes after a collision, slowing the car to the grandmotherly speed of 5mph.

Forward Collision Warning/Avoidance System

Used in conjunction with an adaptive cruise control system, a collision avoidance system (also called a collision mitigation brake system) is a radar-based technology designed to avoid a frontal collision. Some systems use lasers and cameras, but these, unlike radar, are ineffective in poor weather. When fast approaching a car going the same direction and in the same lane, the system’s first alert will be through visual warnings of flashing lights on the instrument panel, along with a beeping alarm. If you continue to approach at an unsafe closing speed, the warnings increase in intensity and there is an automatic light brake application. If none of these draw your attention, then the warnings continue, followed by a strong application of the brakes that can even bring the car to a complete stop. And, if you’re oblivious to all of this, it might be time for a quick coffee break.

Blind Spot and Lane Departure Control System

If adjusted properly and used correctly, outside rearview mirrors will provide the necessary vision to eliminate any blind spots, especially on the rear of the passenger side. However, most mirrors are either not adjusted correctly or used properly, if at all. A blind spot and lane departure control system provides either a visual (flashing lights in the outside rear view mirrors), audible (beeping), aromatic (the smell of fresh cooked bacon) or tactile (vibrating of the driver seat or steering wheel) to alert the driver that a vehicle is in an area that could cause an impact if the car continues to drift from its lane. OK, there’s no bacon smell warning. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Lane Departure Warning

This is probably the most useful of all the technology systems that will keep you out of a collision. BMW uses the vibrating steering wheel with a feeling akin to driving over rumble strips; Cadillac goes with the vibrating driver seat; and Mazda has a beeping sound. And, yes, you can and most likely will turn off this system at some point. Unless you prefer hearing that instead of the radio. We don’t judge.

Cross Traffic Alert System

This technology, usually packaged with the blind spot monitoring system and a rear-view camera, is very handy when backing out of a parking space. The cross traffic alert system engages when your car is placed in reverse and sensors in the rear bumper detect a moving object on either side of the car. Warnings will be beeps (everyone’s favorite), and a flashing light in the outside rearview mirrors. Infiniti, as with other manufacturers, adds in the brake application so the car stops before hitting the sensed object. Which means no more hitting your mailbox/trash cans/Halloween decorations every time you back out of the driveway.

Rear-View (Backup) Camera with Rotating Outside Mirrors

Rearview or backup cameras, available on almost all cars but mandatory by 2018, are activated when placing a car in reverse and are most effective once the driver gets used to the perspective of the wide-angle lens. To make the rearview camera even more effective, it can be paired with automatic outside mirrors that rotate downward when the car is in reverse. The combination of the two solves a major problem when backing-up, especially when parking with no cars on either side of your car. The downward facing mirrors look directly at the painted lines, so along with using the rear-view camera, you are able to easily center your car and stop reversing before banging into something. It might not be as cool as the James Bond oil slick, but it’s probably more practical. Probably.

There’s no mistake that equipping your next car with as many advanced driver assist technology features as possible is a must. When car shopping, do not scrimp on the monthly payment in exchange for a device that may save the life of you and your passengers. Everyone on the road will benefit and thank you for being a safer driver, even if it took a computer, camera, sensor, and over 100 years of vehicular innovations to get you there.

By John Faulkner

Featured Image Courtesy of Pixabay

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June 22, 2017
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