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Car and Driver: Safety For Some: Are Electronic Driver Assists Really for Everyone?

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Safety For Some: Are Electronic Driver Assists Really for Everyone?

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From the June 2016 issue
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Car commercials may have convinced you that every vehicle on the road is a computerized guardian angel, and there’s no question that safety technology is advancing. Sensors, cameras, and the safety features they enable are now cheap enough to be made available on a Hyundai Elantra. But much of the safety tech exalted in ads remains rare, only available on uplevel trims or in packages and almost never as standard equipment. Hoping to gauge how widespread these features have become, we dug through the configuring tools and pricing guides for more than 350 vehicles on sale today to find out how many offer advanced safety technology as optional equipment, expressed below in percentages. While increasing numbers of mainstream models make this hardware available, we’re a long way from everyone benefiting from its universal adoption, so keep watching those mirrors.

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Perfect Students

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Perfect Students

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Only 27 models—just 8% of those available—offer all the features on this page. Of these, the Chevrolet Malibu comes in the cheapest.

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The full list: Audi A3/S3 sedan and Sportback e-tron, A4/S4, A6/S6, A7/S7/RS7, A8L/S8; Cadillac ATS, CTS, XTS; Chevrolet Malibu, Volt; Hyundai Genesis; Jeep Cherokee; Lexus ES, GS, RX; Mercedes-Benz C-class; CLS-class; E-class sedan, coupe, convertible, and station wagon; GL-class; S-class sedan and coupe; Porsche Macan; Toyota Avalon

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Rear Side Airbags
-17%

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Safety-For-Some-01-17-percent.jpg
-Full-length curtain airbags are standard on every car save for the Jeep Wrangler and a few exotic coupes. But rear side thorax airbags are standard on only 46 models, and they’re standalone options on certain Audis and Mercedes. The E- and S-class coupes are the only two-doors on sale that offer this protection for rear passengers.

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Blind-Spot Monitoring
-59%

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Safety-For-Some-02-59-percent.jpg

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Blind-spot monitoring is increasingly paired with rear cross-traffic alert, which scans for vehicles moving perpendicular to the rear of a vehicle backing out of a parking space. Some vehicles, such as Jaguars and Land Rovers, alert the driver to particularly fast-moving vehicles in either lane by rapidly flashing a warning light.

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Backup Cameras
-93%

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Safety-For-Some-03-93-percent.jpg

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By 2018, backup cameras will be required on every new car. At that point, Lamborghini won’t be able to charge $3900 for the option. Even so, 43 percent of all new cars don’t offer one as standard yet.

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Adaptive Cruise Control
-50%

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Safety-For-Some-04-50-percent.jpg

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Adaptive cruise control is more than a convenience. On many cars, it’s a required option for additional safety tech since it relies on the same sensors.

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Forward-Collision Alert
-60%

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Safety-For-Some-05-60-percent.jpg

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Forward-collision alert relies on either radar, laser, or cameras to measure following distance and closing speed. It’s an increasingly common option on cars below $40,000.

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When a Bentley is More Reasonable than an Infiniti

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When a Bentley is More Reasonable than an Infiniti

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Safety features are often bundled together in option packages, some of which require other packages or trim levels as prerequisites. And just because the content is similar between brands doesn’t mean the pricing is, too. To max out the safety gear on an Infiniti QX80 requires four packages, rear-seat entertainment, and 22-inch wheels, for a total of $13,250. A Bentley Bentayga, on the other hand, offers everything but knee airbags for $7870. At the far end of the spectrum, Honda and Subaru models tend to offer these features for the lowest prices. The Accord and Civic can be ordered with multiple driver assists on any trim, even the base models, and Subaru offers them on mid-tier models. No other cars offer a comparable level of sophisticated safety features in the mid-$20,000 range.

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Auto Braking
-45%

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Safety-For-Some-06-45-percent.jpg

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Auto braking, which the federal government and 20 automakers have agreed to make standard equipment by 2022, takes forward-collision alert to its logical conclusion. We only included cars that could actually brake by themselves, regardless of how much deceleration their systems allow (some apply the full braking power, while other systems are less aggressive). We didn’t count models that merely prime the brakes but don’t decelerate the car.

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Knee Airbags
-50%

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Safety-For-Some-07-50-percent.jpg

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Knee airbags aren’t required under federal law, but tougher IIHS tests and years of accident research prove they can reduce knee injuries in frontal collisions. We included cars with either a driver’s-side or front-passenger’s-side knee airbag. Some cars have both.

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Lane-Departure Warning
-54%

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Safety-For-Some-08-54-percent.jpg

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Lane-departure-warning systems use one or more cameras to identify lane markings on the road. They can sound alarms, flash visual alerts, and/or vibrate the steering wheel or seat to alert a driver that his or her vehicle is drifting out of its lane.

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Lane-keeping Assist
-28%

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Safety-For-Some-09-28-percent.jpg

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As with automatic braking, it’s important to separate regular lane-departure warning, or simply alerting the driver to their wandering, from lane keeping, which is an automatic system that applies steering torque or the brakes on the opposite side of the car before the driver leaves their lane. Lane-keeping assists vary widely in effectiveness, but they all include lane-departure warning.

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