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New and Cool Car Technology to Expect | Cheap Car Insurance

car prototypeBy Michael Giusti

Cars are getting smarter. They can help you out of a jam. They can make driving less tedious. Or their suite of capabilities can be an overwhelming source of anxiety.

But before you throw up your hands and pine for the good old days of the ’57 Chevy, it might make sense to explore some of the capabilities wrapped in the accessories package of your new vehicle.

Most manufacturers these days are offering a suite of safety features designed to lend a hand under certain situations. Ford offers its Co-Pilot360, Acura has it’s Acura Watch Plus Package. Audi has Driver Assistance and Honda has its Honda Sensing Package, just to name a few.

Each of those are simply bundles of features that let your vehicle step in and do its part to help you get to your destination.

No matter what they are called, the new driver assistance packages rely on a suite of sensors mounted to your vehicle. Some rely on radar, some lasers, and some just use cameras, but they are all actively watching the road, even when your mind wanders.

One of the best-known features is the automatic emergency braking feature. These watch the road ahead of you. When it looks like a crash is imminent, it steps in and does its best to avoid the crash by slamming on your brakes, even if you didn’t see the crash coming.

These braking features have been so successful, 20 automakers have come to an agreement with the National Highway Safety Administration to begin making automatic braking standard on their fleets of new vehicles by 2025. As of 2018, four automakers have already done so, and another five have included it in a substantial portion of their fleets.

But stopping your car isn’t the only way your cars are getting smarter. Another popular feature gracing new vehicles is the adaptive cruise control system.

Everyone knows what cruise control does, but the adaptive versions add a new layer of convenience. In addition to keeping your speed set without you adjusting the gas, adaptive cruise control systems use their sensors to watch the traffic around you. If the vehicle in front of you slows, it automatically adjusts your speed to keep a set distance away.

The newest versions even come to a full stop when the vehicle ahead comes to a stop. Then, when the vehicle picks up and starts going again, the adaptive cruise control gets you going as well, making stop-and-go traffic a little less stressful.

Another twist on cruise control is the lane-assist versions. These add the capability of keeping the vehicle in the center of the lane as it travels down the highway. As the lane shifts, the car automatically shifts with it.

Turning on both lane assist and adaptive cruise control ALMOST makes you feel like your car is driving for you, but each automaker is quick to point out it is up to you to keep your vehicle safe and to not get lulled into a false sense of security.

Other sensor suites help watch your blind spots so you don’t accidentally shift lanes into another vehicle, and some even scan for passing pedestrians or for cross traffic as  you are backing up.

And everyone has seen the commercials that show the parallel parking assist features.

Each of these features has a varying level of sensitivity that is up to the driver to set. That means that you tell the vehicle whether you want to follow the car ahead of you at a close, medium or far distance, and then set what level of tolerance you want it to use as it keeps you in the center of the lane. Is a little drift OK, or do you want it hugging the center?

When things begin to outstrip the vehicle’s ability to control things, such as when the road conditions change or when the weather gets bad, the vehicle start sending you warning signals. First, they typically flash a request for help, such as a warning to steer or brake. Then comes an audible warning, such as a beep, and finally, the car may step in and apply the brakes or vibrate the steering wheel to force you to act.

Semi-autonomous features or not?

And that reliance on the driver is an important point. These features are there to help you, relive some stress and reduce the tedium of driving. Automakers for the most part are all very careful not to call them semi-autonomous features.

That’s because the Society of Automotive Engineers has established a strict set of criteria defining what constitutes an autonomous or semi-autonomous feature on a six-point scale. Zero means it is not autonomous at all – think a steering wheel. A level-one feature would be something like these features we are discussing here.

Level two would be considered semi-autonomous where they system operates in some capacity without human intervention. Level three is conditional automation. Level four is highly autonomous, and Level five is fully autonomous.

Most car makers are careful to claim their features are Level 2 or lower to make sure people don’t start relying too heavily on these assistance packages and come to believe the car can drive itself.

Part of that is to limit liability as these features are maturing, but it is also a way to get drivers gradually more familiar and thus more comfortable with letting the car take over some or all of the driving duties. While adaptive cruise control and lane assist isn’t a semi-autonomous function, it does help people begin to trust allowing vehicles as they head down the road toward more autonomy.