2000 Models do Some of the Driving for You

June 1, 1999

You're driving home from a difficult negotiation--wondering whether the sellers will ever budge on their asking price.

A jogger is taking advantage of the cool spring night to get in a run. You spot him just in time but have to swerve to avoid hitting him.

Automotive technology today can actually help you avoid such near misses. One of the year's big breakthroughs in auto safety, dubbed Night Vision, uses the same infrared technology that helps the U.S. military fight at night. Night Vision, debuting in the 2000 Cadillac DeVille, can help you "see" up to 500 percent farther than with low beams, which, at freeway speeds, give you just 3.5 seconds to react in an emergency.

Who says safety doesn't sell?

Responding to consumer demand, automakers are rushing to market with an array of new safety features to improve your odds of surviving a crash and to reduce your risk of getting into an accident in the first place.

There's the active cruise control system on the2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The system lets you set a desired speed, then constantly scans the road ahead with a radar beam. If a slower car cuts in front of you, ACC "sees" it and automatically matches pace until the slower car moves out of your way.

Cars have come a long way since antilock brake systems were introduced in the early ‘80s. The AdvanceTrak system in the all-new Lincoln LS sedan is likely to sense a skid even before you do, thanks to a sophisticated "yaw" sensor mounted in the center of the car. If you start to understeer or oversteer--common on snowy roads--AdvanceTrak applies the brake on one wheel, then electronically backs off the throttle to regain traction. Cadillac's Seville offers a similar system, dubbed StabiliTrak,and Mercedes calls its version Electronic Stability Program, or ESP.

These days, light trucks account for half the U.S. motor vehicle market. And although you may like the high seating, it can be difficult to see objects immediately behind you. Ford's Windstar minivan and Excursion SUV offer a system that scans the space behind you looking for hidden objects, such as a child's tricycle, as you back up.

Air bags are credited with saving more than 2,000 lives in car accidents, but they inflate fast enough to injure or kill a small child. It's always best to seat kids in the back, but if you can't, Mercedes' Baby Smart system knows whether a child is sitting up front in a special safety seat and automatically disables the passenger air bag.

At the heart of the redesigned 2000 Taurus is Ford's new advanced restraint system. "It allows the car to think about the crash situation and react accordingly," explains Steve Kozak, director of Ford's Restraint Systems Department. Sensors detect whether occupants are wearing their seat belts and just how close to the steering wheel the driver is sitting. Crash severity sensors measure the forces involved in a collision, then decide just how aggressively the two-stage front air bags will deploy--if they're triggered at all. "No longer are air bags a one-size-fits-all technology," Kozak notes.

Just remember, there's no system that'll prevent all accidents--or absolutely ensure your survival if you're in one. You still need to exercise restraint, caution, and intelligence behind the wheel.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.

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