With nearly 70 percent of the nation’s roads in snowy regions, the majority of Americans have had a “white-knuckle” driving experience in their past. Winter roads claim the lives of 1,300 people every year and injure 116,800, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Fortunately, new features including forward collision alerts and lane departure warnings, are protecting Americans on slick roads. The impact of these new safety features has been substantial.
Vehicles made after the year 2000 helped to prevent 700,000 crashes, saved the lives of an estimated 2,000 people annually and kept one million people safe from injury, according to a report conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“There’s no question, vehicles are safer today than they were a decade or two ago,” says Phil Marzolf, manager of i25 Kia outside of Denver. “Consumers are embracing new features that provide additional safety during bad weather conditions.”
An increasing number of new vehicles are now equipped with these five technological safety advances:
1. Forward collision warning and auto-braking
Vehicles can sense hazards in the road, warn the driver and brake the car to prevent a crash. If a driver is following someone who slams on the brakes, for example, a combination of sensors, laser beams and cameras detect the problem and alert the driver. Assistive technology automatically applies the brakes to prevent a crash. The driver resumes control as soon as he or she applies pressure to the brake.
“It’s amazing technology,” Marzolf says. “In most cases, the technology senses the problem before the driver does. Even if it engages the brakes a second sooner, it could save a driver’s life.”
2. Lane departure warning system
Keeping drivers in their respective lanes on slippery roads is essential to highway safety. If a car starts to drift into another lane, the driver is alerted to the hazard by a buzzer, warning light or vibration. Assistive technology will start to correct the problem, slowly moving the car back into the proper lane (though the technology does not work when snow covers lane markings). The driver resumes control as soon as he or she starts to make the correction.
3. Adaptive headlights
Visibility can be an issue on winter roads. Traditional headlights shine straight ahead, but adaptive headlights react to the steering wheel. If a driver turns the wheel to the right, the headlights follow to increase visibility.
“It sounds like a simple feature, but adaptive headlights can really help drivers follow the road,” Marzolf says.
Insurance companies have noticed a 10 percent drop in the number of property damage liability claims in cars that have adaptive headlights, according to a study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute.
4. LED taillights
When snow is falling, spotting taillights ahead can be a trying task. Halogen light bulbs were the standard, but now more manufacturers are moving to LED bulbs, Marzolf says. LED bulbs outshine halogen bulbs, which gives winter drivers an edge when visibility is low.
“All the vehicles we sell have LED lights now,” Marzolf says. “Again, it’s a small change but one that gives drivers added security.”
5. Traction control
In slippery conditions, tires can lose traction and spin. The traction control feature helps tires grip such slippery roads, Marzolf said. In wet conditions, tires can lose traction and spin. Traction control uses sensors to measure rotational speed in tires and triggers the engine to adjust the level of power the vehicle needs to regain control. If needed, the sensors can pump the brakes to keep the driver from losing control.
More features become standard
Traction control and LED taillights are already becoming standard features in most vehicles, which means there isn’t an added cost for them. In time, Marzolf expects, the assistive-driving features will become standard as well.
“There was a time when anti-lock brakes were new,” he said. “Now, they’re an afterthought, and they have been standard in cars for some time. We’re not there yet, but I do expect assistive-driving features to become just as standard as anti-lock brakes.”
Currently consumers have to pay extra for assistive-driving features. These features could add $1,800-$4,500 to the price tag of a new car, according to Marzolf and AutoTrader.com.
“The added cost is sometimes a problem, but we’ll see reductions in time,” Marzolf says. “In the near future, I think drivers will embrace these tools and be glad they have them at their disposal on winter roads.”