7 Car Features We Wish Were Standard
Many of today’s standard car features, including features that we consider elementary, were once optional. Seat belts weren’t standard features until 1958, speedometers were an option until 1910, and airbags only started becoming standard equipment in 1987. In recent years, automakers have created a number of optional driver assistance systems that increase automobile safety and make driving more convenient. Some of these technologies have such a dramatic impact on the driving experience that they should become standard equipment.
Parking sensors allow drivers to respond to obstacles that they can’t see from the driver’s seat. There are two main types of sensors, ultrasonic and electromagnetic. Ultrasonic sensors send out a series of pulses from the front and rear bumper; by measuring the time it takes for the pulses to return, these sensors can alert you when an obstacle is in your vehicle’s path.
Electromagnetic sensors emit a field from the front and rear bumper. When an object breaks the field, it causes a voltage spike in the sensor. The strength of this spike tells your car how far away the obstacle is. A series of audible beeps translates this information for the driver. By helping drivers detect obstacles that they can’t see, parking sensors improve safety and reduce parking accidents.
All cars have rearview mirrors, but it can be difficult for drivers to get a complete view of the rear of the vehicle through these mirrors, especially in vehicles with poor visibility. Rear visibility is especially poor in SUVs; their bulky size and body layout blocks a significant portion of the rear of the vehicle. Backup cameras give drivers a complete and unobstructed view of the rear of the vehicle, allowing drivers to avoid colliding with objects and other vehicles that otherwise would be in the vehicles blindspot. Thankfully, government regulations will grant our wish for this feature to become standard; by 2018, all new vehicles must be equipped with a backup camera.
Collision Avoidance Systems
Although each auto manufacturer has its own trademarked name for their collision avoidance systems, all of these systems serve a similar purpose. There are four main types of collision avoidance systems: rear cross traffic alerts, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and pedestrian detection.
Rear Cross Traffic Alerts
Even with a backup camera, it’s possible for pedestrians, vehicles and other objects to pass behind your vehicle and collide with you as you back up. Using sensors at the back of the vehicle, rear cross traffic alert systems detect incoming objects and warn the driver when a collision may occur. All of these systems can detect oncoming vehicles; some of the more advanced rear cross traffic alert systems can detect pedestrians and bicycles as well. The use of these systems can greatly reduce back-up accidents; if they were standard equipment, it is likely many of these types of accidents would never occur. Since these systems are often bundled together with backup cameras, many vehicles will soon have a rear cross traffic alert system as a standard feature.
Forward Collision Warning
Forward collision warning systems use a range-finding device, such as radar, to calculate the distance between your car and the car ahead of you. When the system detects that you’re getting too close to that vehicle and calculates that a collision may be imminent, it sends an alert. Many systems also pre-charge the brakes when this alert goes out, and other systems even begin to apply the brakes without human intervention. In most cases, the threshold for activation is preset at the factory, but some systems do allow the driver to set their own following distance. Forward collision warning systems can often react faster than humans can, giving the driver crucial extra moments to avoid a collision. The IIHS estimates that equipping all vehicles with these systems would prevent more than 700,000 accidents a year.
Blind Spot Monitoring
Blind spots are a fact of life, especially for larger vehicles. Blind spot monitoring systems use sensors to detect when other vehicles are hidden in your blind spots, giving you a warning before you change lanes. Some blind spot monitoring systems are paired with lane-keeping systems, preventing you from inadvertently drifting out of your lane. These systems give peace of mind to drivers, especially while driving at high speed on multilane roads.
Pedestrian Detection and Braking
Using camera and radar, pedestrian detection systems locate pedestrians and engage the brakes if they cross into your vehicle’s path. Newer systems can also detect cyclists. Installing this feature on all cars would greatly reduce pedestrian collisions, especially in situations where the motorist didn’t notice the pedestrian ahead of time.
Normal headlights sit in a fixed location; when you’re navigating a curve, your fixed headlights waste a good chunk of their light illuminating the side of the road instead of your vehicle’s path. Adaptive headlights, on the other hand, can change the angle of the light they cast. Your onboard computer detects the steering angle of your vehicle and adjusts the path of your headlights accordingly, keeping the actual road lit up so that you can continue driving safely.
Automatic Parking Assist
Even experienced drivers can struggle with parking, especially on densely packed city streets and in crowded parking lots. Automatic parking assistance systems take some of the guesswork out of parking; they detect the parking situation and automatically maneuver the vehicle into the spot. In most cases, however, the driver remains in control of the car’s speed, accelerating and braking as directed by the system. Some automakers have developed systems that can park autonomously after the driver has exited the vehicle. Automated parking systems could drastically reduce the multitude of low-speed parking collisions that occur every year. If every car was equipped with such a system, cars could reliably park closer to each other, allowing more cars to park in the same space.
Driver Assistance Technologies Make all the Difference
Some car features never become popular enough to see wide adoption, but several of today’s driver assistance technologies make such a difference to safety and comfort that it’s hard to see them not becoming standard equipment in tomorrow’s cars. Some features, such as backup cameras, have already proven themselves enough that they will become standard features in the near future. Other features, such as rear cross traffic alerts, show strong signs of becoming standard features soon. What optional features would you like to see become standard?