Fast Lane: And you thought airbags were enough: Innovations take car safety to new level

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. resulted in 2.9 million injury cases and 42,636 deaths in 2005, the most recent year statistics are available. In addition to the human toll, such accidents cost an estimated $7,300 per second. That’s $230.6 billion a year, or about $820 per person in the U.S.

And yet, when in the market for a new car, many still believe that standard seatbelts and airbags are a car’s primary safety features. But today, remarkable strides are being made in automotive innovations, with vehicle technology designed to make driving safer by helping to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.

Luxury automaker Lexus has even launched an entire ad campaign about the subject for its 2008 RX 350 SUV, which highlights the benefits of the vehicle’s active safety systems.

So if you’re in the market for a new car, following are a few features to look for to help protect you and your precious cargo:

Handle with care

Every driver knows the feeling of swerving to avoid an accident or skidding to a screeching stop. How well your car’s stability control system handles these situations could mean the difference between a safe outcome and an accident. Automakers like Lexus have designed systems such as their Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) to help enhance a vehicle’s handling, particularly when there’s a loss of traction control during a turn.

For example, the VSC in Lexus’ new RX works in tandem with Traction Control to sense the onset of a loss of traction in a turn and react immediately. Responding to input from sensors that analyze wheel speed and steering angle, it detects when a wheel may be spinning too fast and helps apply the right amount of brake pressure to the specific wheel that needs it, or reduces the throttle if necessary. In effect, it reacts to danger before you can.

To see or not to see

Good visibility is a significant factor in preventing accidents. It’s no wonder that the auto industry has been focusing on headlamp innovations. Among the most advanced front lighting systems is Lexus’ available Adaptive Front Light System (AFS). When negotiating a turn, a driver’s eyesight naturally goes in the direction of the turn; but this isn’t where the typical headlamp casts its light. The automaker has addressed this issue by offering headlamps that rotate and cast more light in the direction of the turn. The system takes into consideration the car’s speed and position of the steering wheel to calculate up to a 15 degree rotation for the left headlamp and up to 5 degrees for the right headlamp in the direction it is turning.

Rain, rain go away

The minute those rain drops pelt your windshield, know that your visibility will be immediately affected. An often underappreciated feature on any car, a good windshield wiper system can help ensure a safe trip during bad weather. Today, blades are made to last longer and do a better job cleaning your windshield, vastly improving visibility. So when buying a new car, try out the wiper blades, and make sure they function properly and work at various speeds.

Lexus has taken wiper blades one step further by developing an available rain-sensing system that detects and automatically responds when water drops accumulate on the windshield. On the RX 350, for example, a rain sensor located behind the rearview mirror detects the presence of rain on the windshield. When it senses moisture, the sensor activates the wiper blades at the appropriate speed. When the rain intensifies or diminishes, the sensor adjusts the wiper speed accordingly.

The pressure's on

According to a poll conducted by AAA, 85 percent of motorists do not know how to check their vehicle’s tire pressure. But the amount of tire pressure can greatly affect how your car grips the road. So over- or under-inflated tires can impact vehicle performance in acceleration, handling and braking, all the things that need to be at their peak to help avoid accidents. Make sure the car you’re looking for comes with a tire pressure system that is proactive. Sensors in each tire should constantly monitor the air pressure and transmit the information to the onboard system’s computer and alert the driver when pressure is critically low.

For more information about new car safety features and Lexus safety systems, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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