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Maintaining a constant speed

Tire-pressure monitoring

This technology is already a safety feature in most new vehicles. BMW, for example, offers this as standard equipment on all of its models. Sensors at the wheel alert you if the air pressure is too low with an audible warning, a light on the instrument panel, or both.

Adaptive cruise control

Buying a car is one of the most important purchases you’ll make. Here are some of the latest cutting- edge safety features to look out for when purchasing a new vehicle.

Modern cruise control goes beyond just maintaining a constant speed. Thanks to sensors and the use of radar, cruise control can now adjust the throttle and brakes to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you if there are changes in traffic speed, or if a slow-coach cuts in. If the system senses a potential collision, it typically will brake hard and tighten the seatbelts. Once it knows the lane is clear, or traffic has sped up, it will return your car to its original cruising speed, all without your input. Of course, you may override the system by touching the brakes.

Blind spot detection

This technology is designed to alert you to cars or objects in your blind spot during driving or parking, or both. Usually, it will respond when you put on your turn signal; if it detects something in the way, it may flash a light in your mirror, cause the seat or steering wheel to vibrate, or sound an alarm. This is more of a short-range detection system.

Lane-departure warning

This is similar to blind spot technology but with more range. It judges an approaching vehicle's speed and distance to warn you of potential danger if you change lanes. It can also warn if it determines your car is wandering out of the lane, which could be useful if you become distracted. This could come in the form of a vibration through the seat or steering wheel, or an alarm.

Rollover prevention

Most manufacturers offer an electronic stability control system, and some offer a preparation system (seatbelts tighten, roll bars extend). However, what we're talking about is more intelligent than that. If the system senses a potential rollover (such as if you whip around a corner too fast or swerve sharply), it will apply the brakes and modulate the throttle as needed to help you maintain control.

Occupant-sensitive dual-stage airbags

All humans are not created equal, and new technology can now sense the different sizes and weights of occupants as well as seatbelt usage, abnormal seating position (such as reaching for the radio or bending to pick something off the floor), rear-facing child seats and even vehicle speed. While driver, passenger and side curtain airbags are nothing new, sensing airbags certainly are.

Emergency brake assist

This brake technology is different in that it recognizes when the driver makes a panic stop, and will apply additional brake pressure to help shorten the stopping distance. It may also work in conjunction with the cruise control or stability control system in some vehicles if it senses a potential collision. It’s often called brake assist, although BMW, for example, refers to it as Dynamic Brake Control.

Adaptive headlights

Night vision can be executed in different forms, such as infrared headlamps or thermal imaging cameras. But, the goal is the same: to help you see farther down the road. Adaptive headlights follow the direction of the vehicle (bending the light as you go around corners). They may also be speed-sensitive (changing beam length or height), or compensate for ambient light.

Rear-view camera

Rear-view cameras not only protect your car but also protect children and animals behind you. Reversing your car has graduated from side mirrors tilting down, to real-time viewing. The latest tech involves a camera that works with the navigation system to provide a wide-open shot of what's happening behind you to help with parking or hooking up a trailer.

Emergency response

There are a variety of ways today’s and future vehicles will handle an emergency situation. For example, DaimlerChrysler's Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) turns on interior lighting, unlocks doors and shuts off fuel when airbags deploy; while Volkswagen's also switches on the hazards and disconnects the battery terminal from the alternator. BMW’s Assist alerts their response centre of the accident and makes crash details available to emergency personnel.

Many of these new safety features are not yet standardized. Be sure to check the owner’s manual to understand how your specific car works!