A growing number of cars and crossovers offer sophisticated accident avoidance technology to help prevent collisions; a new rating system grades their performance
New cars have long been rated according to how well they protect their occupants in controlled crash tests. The latest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in Arlington, Va., take a major step forward by predicting how well a given model’s advanced safety technology can help a driver avoid getting into a collision altogether.
“Front crash prevention systems can add a thousand dollars or more to the cost of a new car,” says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer. “Our new ratings let consumers know which systems offer the most promise for the extra expense.”
Already, every car sold in the U.S. is required to come with electronic stability control to help prevent a car from fishtailing out of control in sudden or emergency handling maneuvers by automatically initiating brake and throttle intervention if sensors detect wheel slippage. According to the IIHS, stability control lowers the risk of a deadly crash by 33 percent and cuts the risk of a single-vehicle rollover by 73 percent.
But an expanding array of models are now offering sophisticated collision avoidance systems that will alert the driver if sensors determine the car is closing in on the vehicle or other obstruction in its path too quickly (like when the driver isn’t paying close enough attention). While some such systems will additionally tighten the seatbelts and pre-prime the brakes to full stopping power in anticipation of a possible crash, the most effective systems will go ahead and apply the brakes if the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough to help prevent (or at least minimize the effects of) a collision.
While the IIHS new rating system is limited to testing forward collision systems that alert or protect against crashing into other vehicles or large obstructions, some of the latest systems can help prevent other types of unfortunate encounters as well. For example, Infiniti offers a system that will automatically engage the brakes to avoid hitting cars or pedestrians while backing up. What’s more, Volvo offers two separate variations on accident avoidance technology – called City Safety and Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection With Full Autobrake – that will automatically stop the car to avoid a collision with another vehicle, a pedestrian or bicyclist at slower speeds.
The IIHS recently evaluated the performance of forward collision avoidance systems offered in 74 midsize sedans and SUVs from the 2013 and 2014 model years and rated them as being either “basic,” “advanced,” or “superior,” according to whether or not they provide an autonomous braking function and, if so equipped, how effective it is in tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph. We’re listing the top performers in the accompanying box.
Five vehicles earned the top “superior” rating, which means they’re able to avoid a crash or substantially reduce a vehicle’s speed in both the 12 and 25 mph tests. Eight were given an “advanced” rating, which means they include an auto-braking function and are able to avoid a crash or reduce speeds by at least 5 mph in either of the two tests. Unlike forward and side-impact crash tests, which are conducted with dummies behind the wheel, here an actual human pilots the vehicle toward a stationary target that’s intended to simulate the back end of another car – fortunately, it’s inflatable and can absorb any resulting crash energy.
To earn a “basic” grade, which was given to 25 other vehicles, a model simply has to offer a forward collision warning system that meets performance criteria established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Another 36 models failed to make the cut altogether because they either don’t offer a forward collision prevention system, or their system meets neither the NHTSA or IIHS standards.
For further details and full test results, log onto www.iihs.org.
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Top Midsize Cars and SUVs for Crash Avoidance
• Cadillac SRX
• Jeep Grand Cherokee
• Subaru Legacy
• Subaru Outback
• Volvo S60
• Acura MDX
• Audi A4
• Audi Q5
• Cadillac ATS
• Lexus ES
• Mazda Mazda6
• Mercedes-Benz C-Class
• Volvo XC60
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.