18 Common Car Safety Features

Here's a rundown of some of the more common car safety features you might run into when you're shopping for a new vehicle.

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New cars have more safety features than ever. Part of that is thanks to more advanced vehicle design elements like crumple zones and next-generation materials like carbon fiber and high-strength steel alloys, but it's also thanks to a host of new safety tech that is becoming increasingly common.

Here's a rundown of some of the more common car safety features you might run into when you're shopping for a new vehicle. This is only a partial list of car safety features, and it's important to remember that different car brands may use different names for the same technology.

Lane Keeping/Changing and Steering Assistance

  • Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assistant — Vehicles equipped with Lane Departure Warning use cameras to determine the car's position in the lane and inform the driver through audio or visual alerts (some cars can even vibrate the driver's seat) if the vehicle begins to cross one of the lane lines. More advanced versions can help the car stay in its lane by actively steering or applying the brakes on one side of the vehicle to help pull it back into place.
  • Lane Change Assist — This advanced car safety feature helps steer the vehicle into an adjacent lane when you activate your turn signal on the highway. It's a more advanced version of steering assist.
  • Steering Assist or Lane Centering Assist — These car safety features are different from the simpler lane keeping assist. These systems will actively apply steering to help keep the vehicle centered in its lane as you drive down the highway. This isn't full self-driving tech, though it might sometimes appear that way, as some of these systems may allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel temporarily.
  • Automatic Emergency Steering — Because it's sometimes impossible to brake before a potential impact, some vehicles will add steering assist to help the driver go around an obstacle. As emergency lane-change maneuvers greatly increase the risk of a rollover, these systems can help turn the wheel enough to avoid a collision but brake individual wheels to help reduce the risk of a rollover.

Warnings, Sensors, and Cameras

  • Blind Spot Warning — A particularly notable and prominent car safety feature is blind-spot warning or blind-spot monitoring. It uses rearward-facing radar to check for vehicles in the driver's blind spots to the left and right of the car. Most of these systems will give visual alerts when a car is in your blind spot and then give an audible warning if your turn signal is turned on. Some of the systems will even actively steer your car away from a potential collision when you're changing lanes.
  • Rear Backup Camera — Standard on all new vehicles in the United States, a rear backup camera shows what's behind your car when you shift into reverse so you can avoid previously unseen obstacles. More advanced systems may show the car's rearward path as you steer.
  • Speed Sign/Traffic Signal Recognition — Some vehicles will use a forward-facing camera to read speed limit signs, stop signs, or other traffic signs (even traffic signals sometimes) and alert the driver accordingly.
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Alert — This system generally uses the same rearward-facing radar sensors as blind-spot warning, but it operates when you're backing up. It checks for vehicles and pedestrians coming from the sides that might get in the way while you're reversing. An audible alert or visual cue on the backup camera advises the driver of potential hazards.
  • Forward Collision Warning — The Forward Collision Warning system uses forward-facing sensors like radar or cameras to determine if a frontal impact is imminent. These systems will generally give audible and visual alerts to direct the driver's attention toward the impending crash.
  • Surround View Camera or 360-Degree Camera — The 360-degree camera has a number of names depending on the manufacturer, but it uses several different wide-angle arrays on the outside of the car to create a stitched-together, top-down view of what's around you. It can be particularly useful for parallel parking or backing up, and can be considered a more advanced version of the rear backup camera.
  • Rear seat occupant alert — This increasingly common feature reminds drivers to check the back seat for children or pets when turning off the vehicle. Some systems notice when the rear doors are opened at some point before or during a trip, while more advanced systems use in-vehicle sensors to determine if a child or pet is forgotten in the backseat.
  • Driver Monitoring/Drowsiness DetectionDriver monitoring systems can measure steering inputs or lane departures to determine if the driver is becoming inattentive and may want to take a break. Other systems use a camera to watch eye and head movements to see if your head is bobbing or your eyelids are drooping before triggering an alert.
  • Automatic High Beams — Automatic high beams use a forward-facing camera to determine when cars are coming toward you and can automatically deactivate and activate your high beams when they're needed.
  • Automatic Windshield Wipers — Automatic windshield wipers use a rain sensor on the windshield to determine the intensity of rain, and can automatically activate the wipers as needed to keep your windshield clear of water.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control — Adaptive cruise control is sometimes abbreviated to ACC; though some brands like Mercedes-Benz call it something entirely different, such as Distronic. It's a more advanced version of cruise control that uses forward-facing radar or cameras to adjust your car's speed to match the vehicles in front of you. In other words, if you have your cruise control set for 70 mph, but the person in front of you on the highway is only going 65 mph, your car will slow to match their speed until they get out of the way. More advanced versions will even bring the car to a complete halt in stop-and-go traffic, and resume movement when the vehicle in front proceeds.

Braking and Parking

  • Rear Automatic Braking — Rear automatic braking is a more advanced version of rear cross-traffic alert. It can apply the brakes automatically to avoid a potential collision with crossing traffic or obstacles behind you.
  • Automatic Emergency Braking — When it's paired with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking can apply the vehicle's brakes to reduce the severity of a collision or even avoid it entirely. These systems can vary in their abilities, with some only working at lower speeds, and others having the ability to recognize pedestrians, bicyclists, or large animals and brake appropriately. It's important to note that these systems will generally ignore stationary objects in your travel lane (like fire trucks or construction equipment) until the last possible moment, which is why it's important for the driver to always remain attentive to the situation.
  • Automatic Parking — When they're activated, these systems can automatically control steering, braking, or throttle inputs to help guide a car into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot. Some systems can handle driving out of a parallel spot, as well as into one.
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Jordan Golson
Jordan Golson is a transportation reporter covering cars, trains, planes, future cities, mobility and more — basically, if it moves and doesn’t go to space, he's on it. He is especially interested in the intersection of transportation and technology, and that means he goes deep into electric cars, autonomous vehicle tech, sensors, safety, connectivity, and similar topics.