Some Potential Downsides of Driverless Cars

Standard

driverless carDriving is one of the biggest wastes of time. Other than listening to the radio or a podcast, there’s little you can accomplish during your drive to work or on the way to your vacation destination. Since we’re generally obsessed with maximum productivity, it was only a matter of time before we solved this dilemma!

In the final days of 2014, Google unveiled a fully functional prototype of a self-driving car, and other manufacturers are on pace to introduce their own versions of this technology in the coming years.

Google’s prototype uses sensors on the roof, wheels and bumpers, artificial intelligence software, video cameras and data from Google Street View and Google Maps to steer itself to a destination inputted by its passenger. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that “autonomous” cars will account for 75 percent of vehicle traffic by 2040. But before that happens, a few very important issues will need to be addressed!

Driverless Cars and the Legal System

Our legal system will need to address who’s liable if the “car” makes a mistake? Proponents of self-driving cars believe traffic accidents will be eliminated because human error and judgement will be removed from roadways. This thought has personal injury lawyers worried about the potential loss of business if too many people opt for self-driving automobiles.

We’re supposed to believe machines and computers never malfunction, yet history says otherwise. So what happens if a car has a bug or is given bad data? Or worse, is it possible for hackers to commandeer a self-driving vehicle and steer it off a cliff or into a crowd of pedestrians?

And when an accident is caused by a self-driving car, who will be liable? Is it the passenger who had nothing to do with steering the car? The manufacturer? Can a computer be fined and have its “license” suspended? Speaking of licenses, will owners of driverless cars need them? It’s not like you need a license to ride a bus to work.

That assumes these cars will be legal to operate. In the last several years, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have considered legislation authorizing self-driving cars, but only California, Florida, Nevada, and D.C. have enacted any form of law—and those only authorize vehicle testing.

International Law and Taxes

Allowing vehicles without drivers may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, a set of international traffic laws that Congress ratified in 1950. Article 8 of the law states: Every vehicle or combination of vehicles proceeding as a unit shall have a driver.

Hmmm.

It’s also possible that an emergence of autonomous cars will lead to higher taxes. How so?

Driver error is a major source of revenue for local governments in the form of traffic tickets. Assuming a driverless car can be programmed to obey all rules of the road, the result will be fewer moving violations and fewer $80 traffic tickets. How will municipalities replace this revenue, much of which is earmarked to law enforcement budgets?

So for all the convenience and theoretical safety offered by the autonomous car, like any new technology, it’s also going to bring with it a lot of headaches.

photo credit: Mark Doliner via Flickr cc by 2.0

Am I a Good Candidate for an Electric Car?

Standard

Electric CarEvery time the price of gasoline skyrockets, many people have the same thought: I should buy an electric car, so I don’t have to worry about gas ever again! But as the case with many things in life, eliminating one problem raises others. Driving an electric car brings other concerns not associated with gas-powered automobiles.

Rather than listing the pros an cons of owning an electric vehicle, I think it’s more helpful to identify the characteristics of someone who may appreciate its benefits despite the downsides.

You use the car primarily for commuting to work and running errands. Electric vehicles are utilitarian. You typically won’t use them to take a nice Sunday drive through the country. Since most are compacts and sub-compacts, they are not great family cars (A few mid-sized sedans and SUVs exist, but they are considerably more pricey). With no cargo space and limited battery life, electric cars are not designed for long-range travel. (Although you always have the option of renting a car for travel purposes!)

You can afford the higher cost of ownership. Electric vehicles will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 more than a similar gas powered car. The home docking station to recharge a Nissan Leaf costs $1,000 if you install it yourself and $2,000 to have it installed. Even though it’s cheaper than gas, electricity isn’t free. Charging from home will definitely increase your electric bill a few bucks each month. Public charging usually involves paying per kilowatt or getting a subscription. Some of these costs can be offset by savings on fuel and maintenance, and tax credits, but you’re still paying a premium upfront.

You have a good memory or plan your day well. If you forget to fill up with gas, chances are your warning light will turn on, and the next gas station will be right around the corner. At worst, if the car runs out on the road, you can walk or hitch a ride and bring back a gallon of gas to get you to nearest station.

But if your electric car’s battery is near empty, it may take several hours to fully charge it. Even charging just enough to travel 50 miles can take 20 to 25 minutes, far longer than it takes to top off a gas tank. Depending on where you live, recharging facilities are not always accessible, and you can’t carry around a can of electrons back from the charging facility if the battery dies on the highway! Depleting your car’s batteries can cause ‘range anxiety,’ or the fear of being stranded without enough juice to get home or to a charging station.

You live in the city. There are about 8,800 charging stations with a combined 21,600 public charging outlets in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of these are concentrated in major cities. Living in a rural area means you will be mostly dependent on a home charging system.

One more thing: the environmental argument

Some people like to drive electric cars because they believe they’re helping the planet. And they may be. For sure, they are reducing tailpipe emissions. However, unless you’re hooking up the car to an electric-generating wind turbine or solar panel farm, you’re still using a power source deriving from coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. On the other hand, electric vehicles use their energy more efficiently than gas-powered cars, and they do not require lubricants for engine parts that need replacing every few thousand miles. Whether electric vehicles are truly better for the environment has been debated ad nauseam, and it’s difficult to trust these reports given the politics involved.

The electric car market is still relatively new. But as it gains more acceptance, the sticker prices will come down, the number of charging stations will increase and more people will be able to benefit from owning one! Will you be joining the electric car movement?

photo credit: Dave S via Flickr cc by-sa 2.0

Is Your Car’s Engine Noise Real?

Standard

Engine noiseMany of you are familiar with the phrase, “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.” I’ve met many parents who couldn’t wait for their kids to grow up and move out so they could enjoy a little peace and quiet. But as soon as the nest was empty, they longed for the noise and chaos of a full house again.

The same phenomenon is hitting the car market. For years, car engines were so loud you had to crank up the radio to hear your tunes. And forget about having a conversation! To appeal to a new generation of buyers not interested in revving up an engine, manufacturers engineered cabins that blocked out much of the outside noise. Engines themselves got quieter, too, as they became smaller, more fuel efficient and turbocharged. Hybrids and electrics made engine noise almost nonexistent.

It seems buyers want that vroom-vroom again, or at least carmakers think they do! That’s why many of today’s models come equipped with enhanced engine noise; or some would say, they’re faking it.

Yep, the car you’re driving might be audibly enhancing its engine noise through speakers or piped-in sound. Examples of cars equipped with this feature include:

Volkswagen equips its GTI with a device it calls Soundaktor, a speaker mounted on the firewall to generate extra engine noise.

The 2015 Ford Mustang is equipped with the environmentally friendlier Ecoboost engine. Because it’s much quieter than the typical Mustang power source, the company is using what it calls Active Noise Control to enhance its sounds. The technology works by piping in the car’s actual engine noise, processes it and plays it through the regular speakers.

Ford is also compensating for Ecoboost in its 2015 F-150 by using Active Noise Control.

The BMW M5 and M235i play an engine soundtrack through the car’s sound system.

Lexus worked with sound engineers to develop components that direct all the roar of the V-10 under the hood of its LFA model directly to the driver.

Fully electric cars like the Daimler e-Smart city car and the Nissan Leaf will be equipped with artificial engine sound.

The trend of making cars rumble again isn’t just about drivers’ preferences. There is also a growing safety concern with quiet engines. The reason: Hybrid engines are so quiet pedestrians can’t hear them approach and can’t react if they are on a collision course.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum noise standards. An NHTSA study shows this would reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries by an estimated 2,800 over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans as compared to vehicles without sound. The issue is especially problematic for the blind and vision-impaired which is why the National Federation of the Blind has backed the NHTSA’s proposal.

Perhaps the next development is a volume switch on the steering wheel that lets the driver adjust the engine volume. Now wouldn’t your teenagers love something like that as they’re sneaking home after curfew!

photo credit: Sarah Joy via Flickr cc by-sa 2.0

What is the Real History of Cars?

Standard

Light Bulb History of CarsWho invented the lightbulb? Thomas Edison is often credited, but others were involved.

Who invented the airplane? The Wright Brothers…but some contend otherwise.

Who invented Facebook? Mark Zuckerberg…with some help from his dorm mates at Harvard.

Who invented the automobile?

Well…that’s another question that’s not so cut-and-dry.

Advances in technology usually don’t happen in a vacuum. Instead they evolve from one development to another and usually involve multiple brains at work. The stories of a single inventor having a sudden idea, while more interesting and romantic, are rarely accurate.
The car is no different. Some say the history of cars dates back to drawings created by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century.

Other “first cars” are credited based on the power source they used. Nicolas-Joseph built the first self-propelled road vehicle for the French army, powered by steam, in 1769. Robert Anderson of Scotland is credited with the first electric carriage in the 1830s. German Karl Benz is often credited as the inventor of the automobile by introducing the first true gasoline powered vehicle with an internal combustion engine in 1885.

Still others refer to the 1901 Mercedes, designed by Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, as the first modern motorcar “in all essentials.” This motorcar included a 35-horsepower engine that achieved a speed of 53 miles per hour.

Bicycle mechanics J. Frank and Charles E. Duryea of Springfield, Massachusetts, designed the first American gasoline automobile in 1893 and later formed the first American car manufacturer. By the last year of the 19th century, 30 American manufacturers built 2,500 motor vehicles. Nearly 500 more companies entered the industry in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Ford Motor Company, and William C. Durant founded General Motors.

About 1,800 car companies formed in the U.S. between 1896 and 1930, only three of which are still here today: Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Chrysler, which is now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Some other interesting facts about the history of cars are:

    • It is estimated that more than 100,000 patents created the modern automobile.
    • The oldest car that still runs is believed to be a steam-powered vehicle built in France in 1884. The four-wheeled De Dion-Bouton et Trepardoux, nicknamed “La Marquise,” was originally built for the French Count De Dion, one of the founders of the company that built it. In 2011, the car was sold at a Hershey, PA auction for $4.6 million.
    • You can thank Vincent Bendix for being able to start your car without hand-turning a crank. In 1910, he patented the Bendix drive for electric starters.
    • If you were jamming to Katy Perry or Justin Timberlake on your last commute, that’s the result of the invention of American Paul Galvin. He built the first car radio in 1929.
    • And if you can drive on a 95-degree summer afternoon with passing out, you owe some gratitude to the now-defunct carmaker, Packard. It introduced the first car a/c system in its 1940 model.

While the history of cars is not cut and dry, and we’re not exactly sure who to give the credit for invention, we are certainly grateful they were invented!

photo credit: Giovanni Collazo via Flickr cc by 2.0
photo credit: Leonardo da Vinci self-propelled cart, page 812 right of Codex Atlanticus

4 of the Best Advances in Car Comfort This Year

Standard


If you live as long as the average life expectancy in America—78.6 years—you’ll spend 4.3 years of your life driving a car. That’s 5 percent of your life driving! If that’s the case, shouldn’t you take your car comfort seriously?

Yet many of my customers don’t take comfort into consideration when picking out a vehicle. Some don’t think they can afford comfort. Others believe they have to choose between enjoying the drive and getting better gas mileage.

You may not be able to ride in luxury, but you can ride in comfort, thanks to these common features on today’s vehicles.

Fewer Bumps in the Road

One of the most important systems for car comfort is your automobile’s suspension. Technology in this area has evolved so all but the harshest bumps are barely felt in the cabin.

Magnetic ride control uses a special fluid and electromagnets to adjust to road conditions faster than traditional shock absorbers and provide a smooth ride. An onboard computer monitors road conditions and driver movements controlling the amount of current and fluid needed to keep the suspension at optimal smoothness. Variable damping is a similar technology to magnetic ride control but a little less complex. Air suspensions are primarily used in SUVs and consist of rubber bladders filled with air.

Shade Without Trees

The most uncomfortable I get in a car is when I enter after it’s been baking in the summer sun all day. Even with the best cooling system, it can take several minutes before the car sheds it desert ecosystem. To combat this, many automakers now outfit vehicles with reflective windshields that block out more of the sun’s heat than standard glass.

Turn Down the Lights

Bright lights are an irritant, especially to those with light-sensitive eyes. That’s why many cars now come equipped with ambient lighting. This is basically lighting that has no visible source; it’s just there, spread out over an area not focused on one point or direction. This eliminates having your eyes assaulted by a bulb positioned right in your face. It also helps to illuminate certain areas just enough to see, such as cup holders and instrument panels.

Less Multi-Tasking

Driving requires a lot of focus. That’s why we discourage driving while eating or talking on the phone–and absolutely no texting and driving. Yet sometimes driving itself requires multi-tasking.

For example, how often when you’re driving in the rain do you have to adjust the wipers: it downpours for a few minutes, sprinkles for a few more, then come comes down steady for awhile. Many of today’s models have fixed this problem. Rain-sensing wipers spring into action the instant they detect moisture on your windscreen, then adjust their speed based on how much precipitation is falling.

Or how about driving along a dark highway and constantly having to switch your high-beams on and off? Newer vehicles come equipped with headlights that automatically switch from high beam to low beam when they detect oncoming traffic. They then switch back to high beam when the road is clear.

On average, you’ll spend five years of your life sitting at a desk and another two years trying to stay awake during boring meetings. There’s not much you can do to make those experiences more comfortable. But do yourself a favor and make the ride to and from work a little more tolerable!


photo credit: Stephen Hanafin via Flickr cc by-sa 2.0

photo credit: Trekphiler cc by 3.0
photo credit: Alex via Flickr cc by 2.0

Diesel Fuel and the Future

Standard

Diesel Fuel

Have you been searching for the perfect car? One that fits your needs while helping protect the planet and saving the most on your fuel budget? If so, you’ve probably been looking at smaller cars with 40+ mpg, flex-fuel autos, electric vehicles and hybrids. Now you have one more option to consider: diesel fuel cars.

Yes, you read that correctly! Diesel is no longer the air-polluting fuel that smells bad and belches out black smoke from a semi-truck. Laws that went into effect in 2007 helped create Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel that contains 97 percent less sulfur than the old version. Combined with cleaner burning engines, diesel is now really no more harmful to the environment than similar gasoline-powered engines.

Why Should You Consider Diesel Fuel?

It’s time to get rid of those old stereotypes of loud, clanky, smog-inducing engines. Are they gone? No pre-conceived notions? Good. Because here are the advantages!

The combination of diesel fuel and new engines makes vehicles more fuel efficient, in some cases getting more than a third more miles per gallon than a similar gas engine. Diesel engines are said to be more reliable and better performing, and they do have more torque than gas which is just a technical way of saying they can tow more weight. That’s why they work so well for 18-wheelers.

So it’s a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast. There are downsides (Isn’t that always the case?).

A Few of the Downsides

Diesel FuelDiesel fuel cars typically cost more than similar gasoline-powered ones. The fuel itself is also more expensive, and diesel engines need more oil changes than gas engines. This is an example of why I encourage you to determine a car’s total cost of ownership before making a decision. This means estimating what the car will cost you for as long as you own it, including financing, insurance, taxes, licensing, maintenance, depreciation (which I covered recently), and fuel.

Another negative: Starting a diesel in cold weather is like waking up a teenager on the first day of school! Unless you park in a heated garage or next to a heat source, you’re going to have issues in wintry climates.

Diesel fuel can also be more difficult to find. It’s currently available at about half of fuel stations across the country according to the Diesel Technology Forum. And you have fewer model choices than you would with gasoline or even hybrid vehicles. There are currently only 23 diesel car models compared to 50 hybrid choices.

Diesel FuelBut the diesel trend is picking up steam, and manufacturers are responding. Diesel sales climbed 30 percent from 2010 to 2013, so manufacturers plan to add 10 new vehicle models in the next three years. Even Mercedes has introduced a hybrid diesel model in Europe, and other car makers are looking into combining diesel with electric motors.

So, as with any vehicle purchase, when considering a diesel fuel car, you’ll want to do research on not only diesel, but also on different types of vehicles to find the right fit for you. But if you decide a diesel-powered car is the way to go, you no longer have to feel guilty about fouling up the environment!

photo credit: Martin Abegglen via Flickr cc by-sa 2.0
photo credit: Jeff Turner via Flickr cc by 2.0
photo credit: MBUSA

The Most Expensive Cars of 2014

Standard

I’m in the business of putting my customers in reasonably priced pre-owned vehicles, but today I thought it would be fun to look at what you can buy if you had an extra few million to spend on some of the most expensive cars of 2014!


Each year, Forbes puts out a list of the most expensive cars. Topping the list this year? The Lamborghini Veneno. With an asking price of $4.5 million, it’s the equivalent of buying your own private jet! What makes it worth it? In a word, exclusivity.

Owning a Lamborghini puts you in a very posh club. And it literally is a club. You don’t get to choose whether to buy a Veneno; the company decides if you’re worthy. They don’t even begin the manufacturing process until after you agree to their terms, and they only plan to build nine of this model.

Most Expensive Cars Bugatti VeyronOther than prestige and bragging rights, the only real benefit of owning any of the high-priced machines on the list is performance. These bad boys aren’t built for trips to the grocery store. They’re designed for a race track or drag strip. Several have the acceleration to go from 0 to 60 in about four seconds, and a few can get there in under three seconds–faster than I can do pretty much anything! Most on the list boast 12-cylinder engines and one, the Bugatti Veyron, is outfitted with 16 cylinders. It and the Hennessey Venom GT top out at 1,200 hp and can rocket down an open road at between 250 and 270 mph! Think about that the next time you’re on a family road trip and the kids keep asking, “Are we there yet?”
Obviously, these vehicles are not intended for practicality. They are far from fuel-efficient, and the insurance will cost you dearly. Trunk space and storage capacity are non-existent, and the Veneno doesn’t even have a radio! Of the top 10 most expensive vehicles, only two have a back seat. Of course, if you pay $3,000,000 for a car, you probably won’t be putting two kids with chocolate-covered hands and a shedding dog in it!

And, if you’re in the market for one of these, you’re probably far more concerned with how you look pulling up to the hottest club than how much you paid for the fuel to get there!

photo credit: Kita Fluiera via Flickr cc by-sa 2.0
photo credit: PSParrot via Flickr cc by 2.0
photo credit: courtesy of Hennessey

Improving Your Car’s Performance with Technology

Standard

Improving Your Car's PerformanceIn the early days of classic muscle cars, nothing really mattered except for performance. Cars were judged on acceleration, handling and power. As time went on, though, there was a lot more to consider, with drivers looking for better gas mileage, safety features and cargo capacity. The focus on improving your car’s performance and power fell by the wayside.

These days it seems to have come full circle, with performance returning to the top of the list for vehicle design and engineering. Safety and efficiency are still a priority, but drivers and manufacturers have come to an agreement that just because a car is responsible doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun to drive!

This week I’m exploring four engine technologies for improving your car’s performance without sacrificing fuel efficiency:

Higher Compression Ratios

The old saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” is wrong when it comes to gas mileage versus power. The key to achieving both in the same car is the compression ratio—the mixture of air and fuel squeezed into your combustion chamber. It’s the explosive power created when this mixture is ignited that creates the energy needed to power your vehicle. The higher the compression ratio, the more mechanical energy an engine produces. If you can increase the compression ratio, the car achieves greater performance without using more fuel. Some good examples of cars with high compression ratios are the Mazda3 with the SkyActiv engine, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco and the Hyundai Elantra. The Mazda3 can get 42 mpg while the Eco can reach 46 mpg and the Elantra 38 mpg!

Direct Injection

The mixture of fuel and air mentioned above is how we’ve been powering engines since the beginning. But a new process known as direct injection means the pressurized fuel goes directly into the combustion chamber at the top of the piston’s stroke, near the spark plug. This actually creates more pressure and leads to more power without sacrificing efficiency. Unfortunately, these engines can run dirtier than the clean engines we’re used to and can cost a little bit more. For example, Audi vehicles using this technology cost about 5% more than the regular model. Manufacturers continue to work on these problems, though!

Cylinders on Demand

Improving Your Car's PerformanceThis new technology is the ultimate in letting both sides of your personality win: the responsible side that knows a four-cylinder engine is more fuel efficient, and the wild side that wants the vroom-vroom of eight cylinders. With a car sporting cylinders on demand, when you’re cruising or idling the car is using four cylinders, but when accelerating the switch is automatically made to the howling power of a V-8. Both Audi and General Motors have been experimenting with this technology that allows you to get your driving kicks while still feeling green.

EV Power Boost

In the past, hybrid cars were great tools for letting the world know you’re a responsible person. But they haven’t always been fun to drive. This is changing as manufacturers, led by Jaguar, are including the same “push to pass” technology used in IndyCar racing in some of their vehicles. “Push to pass” does exactly what it sounds like: it adds a button on the steering wheel that turns on the electric motor and uses the extra torque to give the car a boost so you can pass that semi on the interstate without hanging out in its blind spot for too long.

The days of having to choose either performance or efficiency are coming to a close as manufacturers continue to give consumers what they want. What do you think of the models we mentioned? Are you planning on purchasing one of these vehicles? Let us know in the comments below!

By Tabercil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
photo credit: Scott Crawford via Flickr cc by-nd 2.0
photo credit: Audi AG

Future Car Technology We Can’t Wait For!

Standard

future car technology
The human imagination is far more advanced than our mechanical capabilities. If that weren’t true, we’d all be driving flying DeLoreans that use garbage as fuel and take us to and from the future with the press of a button. But with each new model year we get closer to seemingly impossible features becoming reality. Here are five future car technology advances we think are destined to be available in showrooms!

future car technologyAutomated Chauffeur

Imagine checking your email and rehearsing your presentation on the commute to work or taking a quick nap on the way home. It may not be far off, as self-driving technology is quickly emerging and becoming legal. Google has been testing self-driving cars made possible through the use of lasers, radars and cameras that help the brain of the vehicle analyze and process information about its surroundings.

Automated Valet

Park-assist technology has been around for a few years helping thousands of parallel-parking-challenged drivers avoid fender benders. But what if your car could drop you off at the front door and park itself in the adjacent lot or garage? Imagine hopping out under a canopy during a rainstorm without worrying about your car! Engineers with Ford’s European division have developed a system that searches for a parking space and pulls into it without the driver being in the car. Audi and Volvo have demonstrated similar technology.

Touchscreen Everything!

Instead of accepting where the manufacturer places the speedometer, gas gauge and cruise control, you may soon be able to rearrange these “icons” just as you would on a smartphone or tablet screen.

future car technologySolar and Hydrogen-Powered Cars

While this future car technology has been around for years, it has always been impractical for everyday use. That is changing thanks to a joint effort between Ford Motor Company and researchers at Georgia Tech University. The technology magnifies the power of light allowing the solar-powered car to absorb and use it as power.

Closer to mass production are cars that operate on hydrogen fuel cells with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai each rolling out models. Hydrogen fuel cells are an environmentally-friendly power source, because the only byproduct is water vapor. Although these cars have a longer driving range than most all-electric vehicles, finding a place to fuel up may be difficult for now as there are only 25 hydrogen fueling stations in the entire state of California.

One Advancement You Won’t See Anytime Soon!

Flying cars have been a dream since the days of the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford. And, unfortunately, they’re going to remain that way for a long time. Although aircraft company Terrafugia is working to make the flying car a reality, there are far too many obstacles to airborne commuting. Imagine having a collision at 10,000 feet! Even if flying cars were technologically practical, how many will spend the hundreds of thousands that the technology would require? Hollywood has always made it seem like flying cars are on the cusp of reality, but we’re probably not much closer to this future car technology than we were when The Jetsons was on TV.

photo credit: JD Hancock via Flickr cc by 2.0
photo credit: Mariordo derivative of Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons cc by 2.0
photo credit: Mytho88 via Wikimedia Commons cc by sa 3.0

The Latest and Greatest in Vehicle Safety Features

Standard

seat belt plugVehicle safety features are always evolving to take advantage of emerging technology. First it was seatbelts, then airbags and emergency services like OnStar.

But lately car manufacturers have taken safety to an entirely new level. Remember the 1980s TV show “Knight Rider” starring David Hasselhoff and his talking Trans Am, KITT? While we’ve not quite reached the level of artificial intelligence of KITT, cars are now more interactive and safety oriented than ever!

Packed with all kinds of cameras and sensors, newer vehicles have multiple standard and non-standard features to choose from:

  • Automatic braking – Automatic braking is initiated when the car senses an obstacle on the road ahead that the driver is not reacting to quickly enough.
  • Steering assistance – This feature takes over if the driver begins to drift into another lane.
  • Blind spot warnings – Some cars warn drivers if there are adjacent vehicles outside the normal field of view. These systems are now standard in many of the latest family vehicles.
  • Wake-up calls – Manufacturers have started installing alerts that warn drivers if they start to doze off or are not paying enough attention to the road.
  • Pedestrian and cyclist detection – Select automobiles can not only spot other cars on the road, but also warn you or help you stop if pedestrians or bicyclists wander into your path.

Additional safety enhancements include:

Backup warnings – Cameras mounted on the rear of a vehicle with dashboard monitors have been commonplace for several years, but manufacturers have continued to upgrade this function based on new technology. The latest trends include moving object detection that warns if something is about to cross within the area the car is backing up. Also, many automobiles not only provide warning, but activate the brakes if another car or a pedestrian is in the way.

Front center-mounted airbags – Several GM SUVs include a center-mounted airbag that deploys between the front seats in the event of an accident. This feature is designed to prevent drivers from being catapulted to the passenger side during rollovers and to protect better against side-impact collisions.

Hydrophobic windows – Driving in pouring rain can be treacherous, and this fairly new feature alleviates some of the danger. A special treatment is applied to the side windows so that they shed water to preserve visibility.

While no amount of technology will completely eliminate the risk of car accidents, we have far more protection than ever before. Avoiding those costly fender benders and destructive collisions gets easier every year!

photo credit: Benjamin Goodger via Flickr CC BY 2.0
photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0