Collision-avoidance technology is no longer the domain of expensive luxury cars or high-end trim levels — or even new cars, for that matter. New York-based Safe Drive Systems can outfit aftermarket basic forward collision and lane-departure warning systems on most cars from model year 2000 and later.
Safe Drive Systems' basic system, dubbed Premier, embeds radar behind the grille to scan the road up to 460 feet ahead. It checks 20 times per second to detect obstructions or rapidly slowing traffic, and it warns you to slow down with an audible signal and flashing lights from a small module installed above the center part of the dashboard. The module is adjustable for distance sensitivity and beeping volume, CEO Rona Aharonson told us.
A Premier Plus system includes all of that in addition to lane-departure warning thanks to a camera mounted between the rearview mirror and the windshield that scans lane markings. If you start to drift, it warns you with different signals from the same dashboard module, but like any factory system it cancels itself if you flip the turn signal.
It has all the markings of a basic factory system, but it isn't cheap. The Premier system runs $1,100 and Premium Plus runs $1,700 — a price that includes installation at your own home and one uninstall/reinstall procedure if you decide to take the system to your next car, Aharonson said. Thirty-six month financing is also available.
Still, that's expensive given the price of factory systems. Forward collision warning runs $995 on the 2014 Ford Fusion sedan, and it packages adaptive cruise control with that. Subaru's EyeSight system runs $1,295 on certain trims of the 2014 Legacy sedan, but it uses two cameras to integrate lane-departure warning with adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning and automatic braking — including provisions that cut acceleration if you're about to run into something or apply more brakes if you don't brake hard enough. When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated collision-warning systems in 2013, EyeSight performed best. It even beat systems from Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.
Then again, the vast majority of new cars — and virtually all non-luxury cars from a few years ago — lack forward collision warning. "Five years ago the technology wasn't even around," Aharonson said.
IIHS gives forward-collision systems basic, advanced and superior ratings based on warnings alone (basic) or progressive auto-braking that cuts enough speed (advanced or superior). Safe Drive Systems' products can't tap into your car to engage automatic braking, but Aharonson "absolutely" sees a day when they could.
The company's instructional videos claim the dashboard module and mirror camera don't block your field of vision, and that the dashboard module won't harm the dash itself. Aharonson said the company has offered the product overseas since 2008, but this is its first U.S. application.
Will insurance companies offer a discount if you install the system? Don't expect it anytime soon. After all, electronic stability systems have a quantified safety benefit that's prompted the government to require them across all new cars since 2012. But insurers are way behind in offering discounts to cars with the systems — a move that would encourage used-car shoppers to choose ones that have them.
Compare that to forward collision warning, where the process of quantifying the benefits is still in its early stages. IIHS, which is backed by auto insurers, said in 2012 that forward collision warning systems did seem to lower claim frequency and systems that engage automatic braking lowered claims the most. But to get the agency's best safety rating, Top Safety Pick Plus, a car must simply offer forward collision warning — irrespective of its effectiveness or availability.
"The insurance companies are still testing and evaluating this type of system," Aharonson said. "Not just ours, but all the systems."
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