A Guide to Modern Safety Features

By Jakob Hansen, 9/17/2019

Safety has come a long way from what your grandparents used to live with. “I remember riding in the back of the car with rust holes in the floorboard and no seat belts on!” Yes, grandpa, times sure have changed. Cars today need top-notch features to keep us safe. As the number of cars on the roads quickly approaches 300 million, and our average speeds quickly rise, the technology needs to keep up. Come with me and take a drive through these new safety features that are not only making us safer, but are actually making it easier to drive as well.

Active Vs. Passive Safety

There are two distinct types of safety features available today. Active and passive. Both work to save lives in emergency situations but go about it in two different ways. 

Passive safety features are those that react to an accident rather than work to prevent it. These features remain stagnant until an accident occurs, then are deployed automatically to minimize injury to passengers and damage to the vehicle. Some examples of passive safety features include seat belts, airbags, crumple zones, headrests, and LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) systems. These systems may seem basic but are highly developed and save thousands of lives each year.

Active safety features actively work to prevent an accident from occurring in the first place. They are constantly working to keep drivers and passengers safe from any potential collisions. Systems such as traction control, stability control and anti-lock brakes have long been present in our vehicles, and are mandated on all cars sold today. Other active safety features, such as forward collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward and back up cameras, adaptive cruise control and many more are quickly becoming more common and will be standard in our new vehicles eventually as well. 

Safety Suites

Each brand has what’s called a Safety Suite. The Safety Suite encompasses all the safety features available on the car, with a focus on the most technologically advanced features. The Safety Suites span across the brands line up and are seen in different variations on all of their vehicles. An example of a safety suite would be Toyota's Safety Sense. 

Brake Assist

Brake assist detects when a driver is making an emergency stop and applies brakes to maximum force. The majority of drivers fail to apply full brakes during emergency stops. Brake assist ensures the brakes are fully applied in emergency situations. Combined with anti-lock brakes, brake assist ensures threshold braking for optimal braking performance. Most manufacturers don't have a special name for Brake Assist, but some, like GMC, refer to it by special names like Advanced Brake Assist or Intelligent Brake Assist. 

Forward Collision Warning (FCW)

Forward-Collision Warning uses cameras, sensors, or radar to scan the road ahead for vehicles or objects. When the system detects a collision is imminent without driver intervention, it will alert the driver with audible and visual alarms. This system does not necessarily automatically brake the car, but will alert the driver to a potential collision. Most brands like Subaru, Chevrolet, Honda, and many more refer to the system as Forward Collision warning, but others like Toyota call it Pre-Collision Warning or Ford's Pre-Collision Assist. 

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) compliments the Forward Collision Warning (FCW). When the vehicle senses a potential forward collision with no driver input or enough time for the driver to react to the impact, the AEB will automatically apply the brakes for the driver. The system cannot always completely prevent an accident, but at the very least can reduce the speed at impact. This system goes by many different names between the different brands. Ford and Lincoln refer to the system as Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, Nissan refers to it as Forward Emergency Braking, Hyundai and Kia, Autonomous Emergency Braking. No matter what its called, this technology is an amazing life-saving feature. 

Pedestrian Detection 

Pedestrian Detection makes use of the vehicle's cameras and sensors and is specifically designed to detect pedestrians and bicyclists rather than large objects. The system can also automatically apply brakes when an impact is unavoidable. Most manufacturers call the system Front Pedestrian Braking, but a couple stray off the path. Toyota and Lexus refer to it as Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection. Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis all refer to the system as Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist with Pedestrian Detection. Volkswagen refers to it as Pedestrian Monitoring and BMW is Frontal Collision Warning with City Mitigation

Blind Spot Detection 

Also known as Blind Spot Warning, the Blind Spot Detection system monitors blind spots of the vehicle and alerts the driver when a vehicle is in the vicinity. A small light or symbol is located on or near the mirror. If the blinker is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot the system alerts the driver. Blind Spot Monitor is another that most brands, including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Chrysler, Dodge, Toyota, Mazda and more. Others, like Honda and Acura, refer to it as Blind Spot Information System, while Ford refers to the system as BLIS with Cross-Traffic Alert. 

Lane Departure Warning

Lane Departure Warning uses the cameras and radars to detect when the vehicle is beginning to swerve outside of its lane. Monitoring lane markers, the system will alert the driver via an audible or visible alarm or by vibrating the seat when the vehicle begins to exit its lane without using the blinker. Ford, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Honda, Acura, Nissan, Mitsubishi, pretty much everyone you can think of just call this feature Lane Departure Warning. A couple of the manufacturers stray somewhat from the 

Lane Keep Assist

When the vehicle senses the driver is leaving his/her intended lane, it will gently move the vehicle back with the lane markers using mild steering inputs. The system will detect if the driver's hands have been removed from the steering wheel and will alert the driver to replace hands, typically within 10-15 seconds. The alarms continue to sound if the driver does not reapply hands to the wheel. This system is not intended to be used as an autonomous driving aid, but rather as a safety feature. That being said, some manufacturers are making use of Lane Keep Assist technology to aid in autonomous driving.  

Cross Traffic Alert 

Cross Traffic Alert detects traffic that the driver may not be able to see. When pulling in or out of a parking spot, or approaching a low-visibility intersection, the system will sense any other vehicles in the path. By using sensors located on the sides of the bumpers, the vehicle is able to see around corners that the drive may not be able to. Most systems only detect rear traffic, but many also detect front as well. Some systems will automatically brake the vehicle if crossing traffic is detected.

Traffic Sign Recognition

Traffic Sign Recognition will detect the road signs using the vehicle's cameras and will display the sign on the driver display. Many smart systems will alert the driver of an upcoming stop sign or speed reduction and will alert the driver when he/she is traveling above the posted speed limit. 

Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive Cruise Control makes use of the vehicle's cameras and sensors to keep a constant distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. The system will control the engine, transmission, and brakes while activated. Some systems will slow the vehicle to a complete stop and accelerate once traffic ahead moves forward. Others will only operate above or below certain speed thresholds. The system is designed to take control of the acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle. 

Level 2 Autonomous Driving

Autonomous vehicles have five levels of classification. Zero being the lowest with no self-driving technologies to five not needing a driver in the vehicle. Level 1 includes features such as adaptive cruise control and lane assist when the features are used alone. Combined to be able to control steering, braking, and acceleration, it is considered Level 2. Level 2 vehicles require the driver to be alert and interacting with the vehicle at all times. These systems vary in sophistication, however, most Level 2 vehicles are capable of driving themselves in basic situations, with the driver only having to lightly hold the wheel. Level 3 autonomy can drive the vehicle, however, the driver must be able to immediately intervene and take over the driving responsibilities at any sign of an unsafe situation. Level 4 is considered fully autonomous and can handle most road situations, however, still requires the driver to be present and alert. Level 5 requires zero human interaction. The vehicle can have no pedals, steering wheel, or any way for the driver to take over control of the vehicle. Level 2 autonomy is the highest level that has been sold to date and the level of intelligence varies from simple advanced cruise control systems to Cadilac’s Super Cruise that can very nearly fully operate the vehicle. Vehicles with this system, however, require the driver's full attention and hands must remain on the wheel, chiming an alarm when removed for more than 10-15 seconds. The driver must only lightly touch the wheel for it to register, creating a semi-autonomous situation. Systems such as Cadillac's Super Cruise also monitor the driver's eyes to check their attentiveness to the road.

360-Degree Camera

A full birds-eye view of the vehicle showing camera angles from all around the vehicle. The system can be activated during low-speed maneuvering. Some advanced systems can display an outside perspective of the vehicle with surrounding obstacles displayed. 

Advanced Park Assist

Park Assist systems can detect the distance away from an object while parking, both front and rear of the vehicle. Advanced Park Assist systems automatically pull a vehicle in or out of a parking spot, including parallel parking. 


The safety systems available today are working diligently to keep us safe and alive in every situation. With each passing technological advancement, we make our roads safer and safer for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Volvo has a goal that “by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.” Let's hope that goal is achieved and we all are safer on the roads we drive every day.

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