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Mark Phelan: These car features could prevent your next crash

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

"Driver assistance technologies not only keep drivers and passengers safe, but they keep other drivers and pedestrians safe, too," according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which sets standards and evaluates vehicle safety.

Automakers are increasingly offering various ADAS features on all or most models to keep up with safety regulations and demand from safety-conscious shoppers. Unfortunately, each automaker has its own name for the systems, complicating comparison shopping.

There's no hard data on ADAS benefits yet -- at least in part because of the challenge of counting accidents that didn't happen -- but off the record, one automaker said they're selling fewer repair parts for cars that do have the systems, and suspect the reason is that they're involved in fewer crashes.

Another reported a case where Michigan's official state fender-bender, a deer in the road, led to minimal damage to the grille, as opposed to the common vehicle write-off. The deer reportedly didn't fare as well.

AAA Michigan supports the systems, but with a Catch-22 that would make Yossarian wince: The systems reduce accidents, but those accidents that still happen are likely to be more expensive because of expensive sensors in vehicle bumpers, lights and grilles.

Lower accident rates may be built into the insurance cost for new cars with modern ADAS, but don't expect a checkbox discount when you shell out a couple of hundred bucks extra for blind-spot alert, one of the systems automakers continue to charge for, because people who've experienced it are willing to pay.

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Advance driver-assistance glossary

Blind spot and cross-traffic alerts: Sensors that let you know when a car approaches from behind to your right or left. Also alerts to oncoming traffic when you back out of a parking spot.

Forward collision warning: Lights and sounds that go off when you're approaching the vehicle ahead of you at a speed that suggests an accident could happen. The best systems are adjustable to accommodate people who brake late or want more notice.

Automatic braking: The brakes apply without the driver doing anything. May work in traffic, parking lots, or both.

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