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My car does what?! A quick guide to safety technology
by Canvas • March 12, 2019

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Automotive safety technology has come a long way in a short time — today’s vehicles are filled to the brim with a bewildering array of safety features. If you haven’t driven a vehicle equipped with these features, you’ll want to take a bit of time to learn what they do before sliding into the driver’s seat. The best place to do that is MyCarDoesWhat.org, a website created by the National Safety Council and the University of Iowa.

MyCarDoesWhat.org’s mission is to explain how today’s safety features operate, as well as providing guidance on the proper use of these technologies. You’ll find comprehensive coverage of all these features with clear and concise explanations, as well as a marvelous series of professionally-created videos that make learning fun.

The safety technologies fall into five primary groups: Braking, Tire Pressure, and Anti-Rollover; Parking and Backing Assistance; Driver State Monitoring and Communication; and Forward Collision Prevention; along with Lane and Side Assistance. Specific technologies, like Drowsiness Alert, often fall into multiple categories. MyCarDoesWhat.org doesn’t just explain what a feature does and how it works; it also sheds light on what the feature does not do, to help eliminate misconceptions.

Let’s take a look at some of today’s most popular safety technologies.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)

Once you’ve experienced adaptive cruise control, you’ll never want to go back to controlling your car’s speed the old-fashioned way. ACC keeps a set distance between your car and the vehicle in front of it, slowing down and speeding up automatically to a set speed. Some systems can slow the vehicle down to a complete stop, which is a huge stress reliever in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Adaptive Headlights

Have you ever wanted to see around corners? Adaptive headlamps tie the light beams to steering input and move the projected light from side-to-side as you maneuver around curves.

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)

Cameras (and occasionally radar sensors) track the vehicles ahead of your front bumper. If the AEB system senses an impending impact, the brakes are applied aggressively to avoid a rear-end collision.

Automatic Parallel Parking

This technology is a blessing for anyone with a lifelong fear of parallel parking. Automatic parallel parking systems steer the vehicle into a parking spot as if it’s guided by an unseen hand. This technology is not fully automatic; drivers are responsible for shifting gears and braking.

Backup Cameras

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires backup cameras on all new passenger vehicles built after May 2018. While most (if not all) of the vehicles in the DriveCanvas fleet have a backup camera, the capabilities of each system may differ for each model.

Blind Spot Monitors (BSM)

Blind spot monitoring technology has greatly enhanced highway safety. BSM sensors (either radar or ultrasonic) watch for vehicles in adjoining lanes and illuminate an indicator in the respective rearview mirror when another vehicle is present. The system may also issue an audible alert when the turn signal is active to help prevent a dangerous lane change.

Drowsiness Alert

Over 100,000 police-reported crashes are attributed to drowsy driving every year, according to the NHTSA. Most drowsiness alert systems piggyback on lane departure warning technology. More advanced systems utilize a face-tracking camera, mounted near the steering wheel to track the most apparent signs of drowsiness, such as head bobbing and drooping eyelids.

Forward Collision Warning (FCW)

This technology provides visual and audio warning of an impending collision and is a cornerstone of AEB systems. FCW systems are more basic in their function, however, and do not apply the brakes.

Hill Descent Assist

If you’ve ever been nervous while driving a 4x4 SUV or pickup truck on a steep, off-road hill, you’ll love hill descent assist. This technology automatically uses the vehicle’s braking system to keep the vehicle at a set speed while headed downhill.

Lane Departure Warning (LDW)

Staying between the lines — whether on a single-lane road or a multi-lane highway — is crucial to vehicle safety. LDW systems keep you from drifting into another lane (or off the road). These systems use cameras on each side of the vehicle to look at the painted lines and provide an alarm should you start to cross the line. The signal can be visual, audible, vibratory, or a combination of all three.

Lane Keeping Assist (LKA)

This technology takes LDW one step further by providing subtle corrections to the steering wheel to automatically steer the vehicle back into its lane. LKA is most effective on the highway. It’s a helper, but not an “autopilot.” Always keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road ahead.

Pedestrian Detection

Stereoscopic cameras and radar sensors watch for human movements ahead of the vehicle. Automatic braking is triggered when the system senses the imminent risk of a pedestrian collision.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert

This system is triggered when you shift the vehicle’s transmission into reverse. It uses sensors in the rear bumper to watch for vehicles approaching from the left and right sides as you are backing straight out of a parking space. It’s a welcome addition to basic back-up cameras.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

With TPMS, you never need to worry about an under-inflated tire. Sensors in each wheel communicate with the system to provide the current pressure status. Advanced systems provide the specific pressure for each tire, while basic systems show an overall deficiency in pressure. Seeing the tire pressure at a glance takes away the uncertainty of “does that tire look low to you?”

While we have a ways to go before fully self-driving cars become a reality, today’s technology provides many of the stepping stones to an autonomous future. MyCarDoesWhat.org spells it all out without any marketing hype, and with Canvas, you now have the opportunity to experience the latest safety technology on your terms, for however long you need.