Monday, Ford Motor Company announced several vehicle improvements that use radar to improve safety in a variety of driving situations, plus, a new technology that they hope will make driving more accessible and safe for teenagers. Will the new safety features benefit your family? Let’s take a closer look:
The first group of innovations build on Ford’s recent release of Adaptive Cruise Control, a technology that has been mostly available on luxury automobiles for the past decade, but is only now making inroads into mid-range cars. When the system is on, the car uses a forward radar to judge distance to vehicles immediately in front of you on the road and can adjust the throttle to maintain a safe distance.
Ford has taken the radar idea and expanded on it, offering two new systems for 2009. First, using the forward radar again, Ford offers Collision Warning with Brake Support.
In many rear-end crashes, a driver becomes distracted and doesn’t realize a dangerous situation until it’s too late. With the Collision Warning system, the car’s radar compares closing distance and speed with objects in the car’s path.
If specific criteria relating to distance and speed are met, the car’s computer thinks you are headed for an accident. The vehicle will warn the driver with both an audible warning and a visual warning (red lights projected on the windshield). If your vehicle continues on its path without adjustment, the car will pre-charge the brakes in anticipation of an emergency stop. The Collision Warning system was developed after learning from the NHTSA that just an additional second of warning could prevent nearly 90% of all rear-end crashes. Ford’s Collision Warning system gives drivers an extra 1.5 to 2.5 seconds to avoid a crash.
Ignorance Isn’t Always Bliss
With more automobiles on the road and more distractions for drivers, blind spots continue to be a major problem in maintaining safety awareness. Here, Ford has taken similar radar modules and placed them behind the rear quarter panels, allowing drivers to detect other cars driving in blind spots on either side of their vehicle.
The radar covers an area from the side view mirrors back to about six feet behind the rear bumper, giving nearly 180 degree detection. When a car is traveling in one of these pockets, a simple, unobtrusive light on the corresponding side mirror comes on to alert the driver to the potential hazard. Ford is calling this the Blind Spot Information
System, or BLIS, for short.
The BLIS package also includes something called Cross Traffic Alert. CTA is coupled with a standard reverse sensor system.
Like backup systems from other manufacturers, as a driver reverses, sensors using ultrasonic waves detect any obstruction directly in the vehicle’s path, be it a car, curb or other objects. But what is unique about Ford’s approach is that their backup system, coupled with BLIS, will utilize the rear radar modules and detect any cross traffic as you backup. Considering how difficult it can be to see down traffic lanes while backing out in parking lots – and how dangerous lots can be – the Cross Traffic Alert could be a big winner.
(To further illustrate these radar-related technologies, watch the Ford promotional video at the end of this post.)
Born To Be Mild
Finally, for teenagers and their parents, Ford announces MyKey. This technology, a byproduct of some internal brainstorming, is integrated into a standard anti-theft key and the car’s onboard computer system. A parent can program up to seven additional keys, assigning a variety of controls. When operating a vehicle with MyKey, safety features include:
- Persistent Ford Beltminder – The reminder chime will continue to sound until the seat belt is fastened – it won’t time out. Additionally, the stereo will remain muted until the seat belt is fastened.
- Low fuel warning – The standard 50 miles to empty warning will be increased to 75 miles to empty.
- Traction control cannot be deactivated.
- Audio is limited to 44% of maximum volume.
- Top speed is limited to 80 mph.
- Speed alert will chime at 45, 55 & 65 mph.
Early testing shows signs of acceptance for the system by the Net Nanny generation – largely because Ford believes teenage vehicle usage will increase along with parental peace of mind. The system will be available next year on the Focus model, with plans to roll out to other models soon. What’s more, MyKey will be a standard feature, available at no additional cost.
Ford invited GeekDad to try out these new technologies, so I reported to the Motor City on Monday to give these systems a workout. After buckling in, I drove out onto a 43-acre expanse of tarmac to see if these innovations would be worth my automotive dollars.
First, I tried the Collision Warning with Brake Support. On our first run, the system failed to perform. No problem, since they are, essentially, still in beta. Subsequent runs of the system lived up to expectations. However, even at the low speeds we were traveling, the warning didn’t seem to come soon enough. It may have been the nature of the test and anticipating the system working (since every fiber of your body is telling you to brake sooner than the the system alerts you). Plus, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Mercedes S-Class test from a few years back. But Ford engineers said the final system would ship with a setting that will warn you much earlier. Drivers will be able to adjust the alert setting on their own.
Next, we stepped into another car to try out the BLIS system and the Cross Traffic Alert. The BLIS system is difficult to appreciate in a test situation. However, on the road, I can imagine the system being useful. The only alert is a small light in the outer corners of the side mirrors. I would anticipate this system being very useful for car drivers, but, more importantly, as a motorcycle rider, I would feel safer knowing cars had a system like this on board.
The final test involved the Cross Traffic Alert. Parked closely between a big Ford Flex and a Volvo V50 wagon, my view of the lane behind me was very limited. I backed up and the radar modules let me know – with plenty of time – that a car was approaching. In my opinion, this system holds a lot of promise for families. Because, by law, young kids are relegated to the back seat and the back seat is always exposed to danger first while backing up, the Cross Traffic Alert could prevent injuries for young ones.
Ultimately, it would come down to what was in my budget the next time I purchased a car, but the Cross Traffic Alert stood out as my favorite – both in everyday use and safety. My family is 10 years away from having teenage drivers, but I’m sure MyKey’s features (and price) will make a lot of families breathe a little easier.
Every year, automakers seem to find new ways to improve old features or come up with new safety innovations. While part of me thinks that – at this rate – one day we’ll all be driving down the street in Nomex, full-face helmets & 5-point harnesses, the dad in me appreciates the little advances that help keep my kids safer. What do you think? Are safety features out of control? Do you appreciate the safety of modern vehicles? Let us know in the comments.