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Cars That Stay Alert, Even When Drivers Don’t

Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant navigates the New York International Auto Show in search of the best, worst and coolest from automakers’ new lineups. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor Wednesday and Thursday before the show’s public opening on Friday, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant.

A widening array of airbags may help limit injuries in an accident, but automakers’ latest tech aims to help drivers avoid a collision altogether.

Subaru’s new Legacy and Outback models will include the option for a new feature called Eyesight Technology. It uses a number of sensors and cameras to sense objects around the vehicle, braking to lessen the impact of an impending collision and altering cruise control to adapt to say, a sudden traffic jam. Drivers will also receive warnings if the vehicle starts to drift out of your intended lane. “It’s another pair of eyes on the road,” says a spokesman. Pricing has yet to be determined, he says.

Such advanced safety technologies have become more prevalent, although they’re still largely reserved for luxury brands and expensive options packages, says Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman for Edmunds.com. At the show, Mercedes has unveiled a camera that offers 360-degree views of the area outside the vehicle, and Honda’s new LaneWatch uses cameras for an enhanced view of vehicle blind-spots.  A Subaru spokesman says the company’s technology “has wider vision than some of the other technologies on the market.”

But the new driver safety aids are still not a replacement for good driving. “There’s potential for those systems to fail,” Anwyl says. “There are going to be speed bumps in adoption.” The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has said the tech is too new for there to be a track record of how well it aids drivers.

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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