Sneak Peek: The Next Wave of Car Safety Improvements

Car safety is constantly improving. Seat belts, air bags, and crumple zones are all forms of technology that have become standard in every new car that hits American roads. But even though these features have driven down fatalities and injuries (auto insurance companies rejoice!), cars can always improve, and the government is looking to make even more safety technology standard in the future.

In their recent list of most-wanted car safety improvements, here’s what the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended be in every car in the near future:

#5) Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control systems, or ESC, are already standard in many larger vehicles, such as SUVs, and for a reason: Estimates are they reduce fatalities by a third. The systems, which detect skidding and apply braking to individual wheels while reducing engine power, are widely considered one of the more important life-saving technologies, and will be standard in all new cars by the end of the year.

#4) Adaptive Cruise Control

Cruise control is great for some drivers, but it also presents a problem: Making sure you react to changing road conditions. Adaptive cruise control helps do that for you by scanning the road constantly and adjusting speed according to what it detects. While rudimentary versions of these systems have been around since the 1990s, and it’s largely a feature on luxury cars, Subaru has already introduced ACC systems in their 2013 Outback and Legacy models, and Chevy will be bringing them to the 2014 Impala. Expect any new car to come with these systems before we vote in the 2016 elections.

#3) Lane and Collision Warnings

One of the simplest uses of sensors is to simply let drivers know when something is going wrong. Lane and collision warnings uses this sensor data to let you know when you might be drifting, or when the other guy might be on his phone instead of paying attention. It sounds simple, and it is; but even just letting drivers know can save lives. Expect this to be standard by the end of 2015, as companies will be installing these sensors for other reasons, and configuring the warnings is fairly cheap and simple.

#2) Automatic Braking

Speaking of those sensors, it’s an old joke but it’s true: It really is often the speed that kills you in collisions. So if all else has failed and it looks like you’re about to crash, automatic braking systems slam on the brakes, reducing speed and turning fatalities into injuries, and serious injuries into minor ones.

That said, there’s still a lot of controversy around these systems, since they can take control out of the driver’s hands and some of the more aggressive designs will automatically stop for, for example, stop signs. Expect these to be an option, not standard, in most cars by 2020.

#1) Smartphone Lockdown

The final recommendation is possibly the one that most people will dislike: Systems that detect when the smartphone is near the driver … and lock it down.

Distracted driving is dangerous, and it’s unclear if hands-free sets are as dangerous as socketing the phone in your ear. Nonetheless, this idea is less than popular among automakers and many drivers. Still, expect it to start becoming available sooner rather than later, especially as an aftermarket system for used cars to keep teenagers from yakking themselves right into an accident.

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