When most people think about the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the group’s crash-test ratings naturally come to mind. An overall grade is provided, as are individual ones for frontal crashes, side crashes and rollover resistance. The results often are an important consideration for car buyers.
But another key aspect of the program — especially with today’s cars — has to do with NHTSA’s “Recommended Technologies.” NHTSA generally supports most technologies that can help decrease crashes and save lives, but it also has set specific performance criteria for four that it considers to be particularly effective. As a matter of fact, NHTSA thinks so highly of these technologies that it moved to make two of them standard in the near future: Rear-vision video systems will be standard in all new light-duty vehicles by 2018, and automatic emergency braking will come standard in most new vehicles four years later.
Until then, you can continue checking for all four recommended technologies on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis at the NHTSA website, and you can find out more about how they work below.
Rear-vision Video Systems
Commonly called “rearview cameras,” rear-vision video systems are an early success story for NHTSA’s technology-boosting efforts. It’s one that’s years in the making. The idea dates at least to 1956, when the Buick Centurion concept car was unveiled. Along with its Jet Age design cues and a full glass roof, the Centurion had a rear-facing camera and dash-mounted display screen instead of traditional mirrors. But it took until 2002 for rearview cameras to appear on modern-day cars, starting with the Infiniti Q45, and it wasn’t until 2014 that NHTSA announced its mandate for them to be standard on all new light-duty vehicles by May 1, 2018.
Automakers are fast approaching that goal, with rearview cameras standard even on mainstream subcompacts such as the 2018 Chevrolet Sonic. The technology has become fairly advanced, too, so that there are systems with guidelines to help drivers stay on course, others specifically engineered to help with hitching up trailers, and one with a fully digital rearview-mirror display that owners can use in all driving situations, not just when backing up.
Per NHTSA research, rearview cameras can be expected to save between 60 to 70 lives each year and prevent an untold number of injuries once the full U.S. light-vehicle fleet is equipped with the technology.
Automatic Emergency Braking
To be exact, what NHTSA recommends here is forward automatic emergency braking that includes a forward-collision warning function. This technology is based on forward-facing sensors that monitor traffic on the road ahead. If those sensors detect that the driver is approaching slowed or stopped vehicles too quickly, it provides warnings so he or she has a chance to react to the situation. Then, if the system determines a crash is imminent, it can automatically apply the brakes, in some cases bringing the car to a stop.
Again, even mainstream shoppers can find a variety of systems out there, including some technology with camera-based sensors, some radar-based ones and some, such as the 2018 Toyota Corolla, with both. It’s worth noting that automatic emergency braking is standard on the Corolla (with a specific pedestrian-detection function and a comprehensive package of additional safety features). Meanwhile, vehicles such as the 2018 Subaru Forester are complementing the forward-focused technology with reverse automatic emergency braking.
Thanks to a partnership between NHTSA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the top 20 automakers selling in the U.S., forward automatic emergency braking is expected to reach “virtually all new cars no later than … Sept. 1, 2022.” That’s three years faster than without the partnership. The technology is expected to prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries during that period.
Forward Collision Warning
As just mentioned, when automatic emergency braking becomes standard in a few years, it will include forward-collision warning technology. Yet both NHTSA and a few auto brands treat it as a standalone feature right now.
Shoppers should keep in mind that some of these systems go beyond the basics already discussed. For example, in the 2018 Nissan Altima — which, to be clear, has automatic emergency braking — drivers can benefit from an “intelligent” forward-collision warning setup. This technology not only monitors traffic immediately in front of the Altima, but also traffic in front of that.
Lane-departure warning technology is designed to alert drivers if they start unintentionally drifting out of their lanes, whether it’s into oncoming traffic or with the flow of other vehicles. In a vehicle such as the Toyota Corolla, it works by leveraging a camera-based sensor to first identify the painted-on lane markings on the road. Next, if the car starts moving into a different lane without a turn signal on, the system alerts the driver with both warning lights and sounds.
Customers also should know that lane-departure warning does not necessarily include lane-keeping assistance, which can deliver automatic steering inputs to nudge the vehicle back into its proper lane. Nor does it necessarily feature a side blind-zone alert, which is specifically engineered to detect vehicles in a driver’s blind spot during a potential lane change.
On the other hand, the reason we’re discussing the Corolla a second time is that it distinguishes itself with both lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance as standard equipment, and it offers a blind-zone alert, too.