9 Safety Features You Need in Your Next Car

Volvo Autonomous Driving
Volvo uses a suite of sensor technology to monitor traffic, read street signs, road markings, pedestrians and more to allow its vehicles to drive autonomously. Photo: Volvo

Never Buy a Car Without These; Here’s Why.

Safety technology has moved way beyond airbags and seat belts; there are so many features it’s hard to keep them straight. But, are they worth the investment?

We think yes, you should have them all and they are well worth it.

These Features Could Save You Money

Consider this: the average safety technology package may mark up the price of a car by $1,500 to $2,500. Balance that with an insurance deductible if you get into an accident and the reduced value of your car because of that accident,

They Can Make You Money, Too

By outfitting your car with the top available features, you’ll increase resale value of your car. Even though the technology will advance, you don’t want to be without it, and in many cases, software updates will allow features to be updated to the current standard.

They’re Available in Virtually Every Car

Automakers are investing in these features because they will be part of the suite of technology that will enable autonomous or semi-autonomous driving. So it’s in their best interest, as well as yours, to have them in your car.

Volvo Autonomous Driving

Volvo uses a suite of sensor technology to monitor traffic, read street signs, road markings, pedestrians and more to allow its vehicles to drive autonomously. Photo: Volvo

Look for Safety Features as Standard Equipment

Don’t pay extra if you don’t have to; many auto makers are adding these features as standard equipment. With the declining cost and the necessity of having them for autonomous driving, they’ve become a selling point

So now that you’re convinced, here’s our guide to what’s out there and what you should have in your next car.

Basic Active Safety Features

These features are generally available on every car:

  1. Blind spot monitors: This system uses sensors embedded in the car’s frame to sense vehicles on the left or right of your car. It flashes a warning, usually a small icon in the side view mirror, to let you know something is in your blind spot.
  2. Lane departure warning: This system monitors the lines on the road and lets you know if you’re drifting toward, or over, them; it’s overridden, though, if your turn signal is on. An icon on the driver’s dashboard illuminates when you drift from your lane, often an audible beep is heard and some systems have a haptic warning which softly vibrates the steering wheel or driver’s seat.
  3. Pre-collision alert: Cameras and sensors on the car monitor traffic ahead of the car to anticipate when you’re in danger of a crash. Lights and/or a message will flash in front of the driver to alert you of the danger.
  4. Rear view camera: Mandated by federal law, every new car must now have a rear view camera. When you put the car into reverse, you should see a live image of the view behind the car on the infotainment screen or on the rear view mirror.
  5. Pedestrian and cross traffic detection: Sensors in the car’s bumpers detect if a pedestrian, large animal or vehicle is headed your way and issues an alert.
  6. Adaptive Cruise Control: Those same sensors that monitor traffic ahead and can detect a potential crash can also regulate your cruise control. Simply put the car in cruise and let it do the work, slowing and getting back up to speed with the traffic.
  7. Tire Pressure Monitoring System: This one has been around for a while, but it’s so important: sensors in each tire’s air valve monitor air pressure, and a dashboard indicator lets you know if you have an issue. Since many cars no longer have a spare tire, being able to know about and address an issue before it becomes a problem can save the day.
  8. Brake Assist: Most braking systems are now equipped to automatically brake when sensors pick up slowing traffic, tire slippage or changing road conditions. These systems can react more quickly than humans, so by the time you’ve applied the brakes, the car is already starting to take action.
  9. Electronic Brake Force Distribution: The force of braking is evenly distributed to each wheel to avoid skidding, sliding and, of course, the lurch-forward/whip back that can occur when you hit the brakes suddenly.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Safety Features

When adaptive cruise control is engaged you get this notice on the dashboard. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Advanced Active Safety Features

These features take the technology a step further to provide even more function. They are less likely to be standard equipment but are offered on many models, including many luxury cars.

  • Lane departure assist: This takes the lane departure warning system a step further, correcting the steering to keep you in your lane as well as giving a visual and audible alert. Drivers may feel the resistance in steering, and the system is over-ridden if your turn signal is on.
  • Surround view camera: This is the rear view camera on steroids: It provides a full view around the car so you can see curbs, shrubs, lines on the pavement and more.
  • Automatic high beam headlights: These have become more and more popular and are even starting to become standard in many safety suites. High beam headlights lower to regular illumination when a car, pedestrian or highly reflective surface is detected. This will also keep you from blinding other drivers when you forget to lower your high beams.
  • Adaptive cruise control with full stop/start: This system brings your car to a full stop and often, will restart when traffic starts moving again. Truly set it and forget it.
  • Emergency Braking: This combines brake assist and the adaptive cruise’s speed regulation feature to fully stop your car if a crash is imminent. It typically works in reverse too, saving bicycles and trash cans from being flattened by your car.
  • Pre-tensioning seat belts: Part of the emergency braking system, small motors in the seat belts immediately tighten them to keep you from lurching forward.
  • Active Park Assist: This cool feature parks your car for you (with your help). After selecting the system the car finds a spot, prompts you to change gears when necessary and guides the car into the spot. You control the car’s speed and follow its prompts to help it park parallel or perpendicular (backing the car into the spot). The system will also pull out of a parallel spot for you with the same prompts and assistance from the driver.

Many of these features are available as an add-on to an older car. 

Safety Technology

Just some of the safety technology icons that you may see on your dashboard that are explained by the My Car Does What? campaign

And One Last Bit of Advice (Keep This To Yourself, Please)

Many of these features can be a little annoying. Most manufacturers allow you to deactivate some of them; ask which can be turned off and if they have to be turned off every time you start the car or if they stay deactivated until you reactivate them.

And then, don’t tell your husband or teen driver how to do this (or that it can be done). Because you want to know when they are drifting from the lane or about to knock over the trash cans!

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss