The hottest trends at the 1984 North American International Auto Show in Detroit were the talking car and the minivan.
The minimum drinking age was still 18. The brand-new Apple Macintosh cost as much as a car. Air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control were still years away from widespread use.
More than 44,000 people died on U.S. highways.
Three decades later, you can’t buy a new passenger car without stability control, anti-lock brakes and at least four air bags. What’s more, after years and years of sales, a majority of all cars on the road have them, too. About 35,000 people died in auto accidents in 2013 despite many more cars on the road.
And innovations in safety have taken center stage at the Detroit show.
Below are some of the safety features highlighted in January at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. Safety technologies tend to debut on the priciest models, but however exotic these seem, the most useful will make their way onto most cars.
These pricey new features might not result in specific car insurance discounts, says CarInsurance.com consumer analyst Penny Gusner, but safety improvements eventually show up on the bottom line. “Cars with fewer injury or accident claims will always be cheaper to insure,” Gusner says.
Braking even when you don’t
Hyundai revealed its new 2015 Genesis with Sensory Surround Safety, a suite of active driver safety technologies. One of the features is a Hyundai first, Automatic Emergency Braking. Using sensor technology, it automatically applies the brakes when it detects another vehicle at an unsafe closing rate of speed, helping avoid a collision.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has several high-tech safety features. Its Collision Prevention Assist Plus provides a series of warnings, including visual and audible, if there is danger of a collision. Like the Hyundai, it can apply the brakes, but it can also boost braking if the driver is not braking hard enough or partially brake if the driver doesn't react immediately.
A heads-up for the distracted
Mercedes-Benz also offers its Attention Assist system in its 2015 C-Class vehicles. Monitoring 70 parameters during the first minutes of a ride, the system evaluates the driver's style, steering movement and speed tendencies. As the journey continues, the car can detect signs of drowsiness by comparing early measurements to any changes in driving. It also evaluates how long the driver has been at the wheel, if he or she is using instruments, or if there are external influences such as wind or uneven road conditions. If the car determines the driver is fatigued, it will sound an alert and suggest that the driver take a break.
Volvo engineers continue to work toward the company’s goal of no fatalities in its cars by 2020 with its Road Edge and Barrier Detection system, available in its 2015 XC90. While several vehicles offer lane-assist features, alerting drivers when they cross over lane markers, Volvo's new enhanced system also monitors the edge of the road as well as any barriers, such as in construction zones. If the driver doesn't correct its path, the car will gently steer itself back toward the center of the lane.
Your car sees things you can’t
Protecting the driver and passengers is the main goal of most new safety features, but some are designed to protect lives outside the vehicle. The 2015 Audi A8 includes Night Vision Assistant. A previous version of this technology could only detect pedestrians. Its new release can identify animals, highlighting their location using a display on the windshield and providing an audible warning if the animal is in danger of entering the path of travel.
Subaru's EyeSight system uses cameras networked into the car's braking and throttle controls and provides drivers with warnings on activities such as lane drifting and potential collisions. For its 2015 models, the company has updated its safety features to include rear cross-traffic alerts. This new function could help avoid crashes when backing out of a parking space with limited vision.
You want air bags? We got air bags
The NHTSA requires two air bags in every vehicle -- one for the driver and front passenger -- but many of today's cars come with six standard. Several 2015 models, including the 2015 Audi A8, Chrysler 200, Dodge Dart and Chevy Cruze, take air-bag safety even further by offering 10 as standard equipment.
It can be hard to imagine where 10 airbags might go. In addition to driver and front-passenger inflatables:
- Knee air bags prevent lower-leg injuries.
- Center air bags provide more support for front-seat occupants and serve to cushion any potential contact between driver and passenger.
- Rear curtain air bags protect back-seat passengers from breaking glass by inflating between the rear window and the rear passenger head restraints.
- Seat cushion air bags inflate from the seat cushion, lifting the occupant's knees upward, helping the safety belt fit better and reducing the force on the occupant's pelvis.
- Seatbelt air bags help protect rear-seat passengers by distributing the force of impact across a wider area of the torso and chest.
Now Volvo is developing the first hood air bag that would protect someone outside the car. Currently an option available only in its European Volvo V40 model, it uses sensors on the front of the car and deploys an air bag over the front of the car, protecting the person from crashing through the windshield.