True, the safest way to drive is without distractions, but there are times when we find ourselves having to answer the phone while driving. Bluetooth hands-free calling makes sure that drivers can at least keep their eyes up and their hands on the wheel while doing so.
Voice command allows drivers to spend more time with their hands on the steering wheel and less time fumbling with controls. Notable systems include Honda's voice control in the CR-V, which allows even climate controls to be adjusted, and Ford's sync, which allows drivers to choose music by name.
Adaptive cruise control uses lasers or forward-facing radar to maintain a safe distance between your car and the car in front of you while coasting down the highway. When combined with a collision detection system, these systems can greatly increase the safety of a vehicle.
Blind-spot monitoring systems, like this one in the Audi Q5, utilize proximity sensors to notify the driver of potential obstructions in their vehicle's blind spots with an indicator light, an audible chime, or both. The best of these systems work even at low speeds.
In vehicles with poor rearward visibility, a rearward-facing camera can prevent fender benders while parking or, at best, save someone's life. Other useful camera setups include the BMW 750Li's side-view cameras mounted at the tip of its long nose and the Infiniti FX's bird's-eye camera system that uses multiple cameras to give drivers an overhead view of the area around the vehicle.
As much as we'd all like to think that we're hot-shot drivers, the fact remains that most of us are not. When the road gets slippery, a good traction control or stability control system can mean the difference between a high-speed scare and a high-speed crash.
Crumple zones help save lives by deforming and absorbing crash energy. Other innovations, such as engine mounts that are designed to drop the engine below the vehicle in the event of a crash and the Smart Fortwo's superstrong passenger cage, help to divert crash energy around the passengers instead of through them.
Updated:Caption:Antuan GoodwinPhoto:Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Airbags are deployable bladders of air that cushion passengers in the event of a crash. The Mercedes-Benz ESF 2009 safety concept includes innovations such as a center airbag that keeps passengers from colliding with each other and an air brake that deploys from below the vehicle to increase braking friction when a collision is evident.
The humble three-point seat belt recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Half a century later, wearing a seat belt is still the best way to avoid injury in a crash thanks to innovations such as pretensioners and force distribution systems that can spread the force of a crash over a few seconds.
Night vision, seen here on the BMW 750Li, is only marginally useful in metropolitan areas, but drivers who frequently drive on twisty rural roads at night may find the heat-sensitive camera to be useful.