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What's in a Name? For High-Tech Safety Features in Cars, a Lot of Confusion

car safety features motion gif Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

As automakers continue to create and innovate safety and driver assistance features, the names of these systems become even more confusing for consumers (like, what does Smart City Brake Support mean exactly?). The SAE International, AAA, Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and the National Safety Council have launched an initiative called “Clearing the Confusion: Recommended Common Naming for Advanced Driver Assistance Technologies.” Their goal is to create a framework for industrywide naming standards to better inform drivers about these systems.

Related: Pop Quiz! How Well Do You Know Your Car’s Safety Features?

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Industry experts were tapped to clearly explain the features, and the group says the new naming outline is simple, specific and based on system functionality. The new terminology includes names like driving control assistance, collision warning, collision intervention and parking assistance. Features like adaptive cruise control, active driving assistance and lane keep assistance fall into the driving control assistance category, for example.

Confusion Causes Crashes

The initiative is more than an effort to clear up confusion, the group says; it’s also a safety issue as consumers try to discern what these safety systems can do. For example, Tesla’s suite of driver assistance technologies, dubbed Autopilot, has come under fire from safety and consumer advocates who say the name is misleading since it still requires drivers to pay attention and take over as necessary. Some high-profile crashes and deaths have involved drivers allowing Autopilot to operate the car with virtually no intervention.

“With advanced safety technologies being added to new vehicles every year, we recognize that it’s important that consumers understand the technologies they are using and common descriptions can help,” Chad Zagorski, chair of the SAE International Active Safety Systems Standards Committee, said in a statement. “Educating drivers on key terms such as ‘Lane Keeping Assistance’ and ‘Automatic Emergency Braking’ helps drivers have consistent expectations and awareness of the functionality of their vehicle’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.”

Refine, Not Replace

Those complicated names created by automakers’ marketing departments — like Mazda’s i-Activsense or Toyota’s Safety Sense P — likely won’t be changing anytime soon, however. The group says the new list isn’t meant to replace the automakers’ package names but rather help identify what the features in those packages do and provide clarity to consumers.

“As safety technologies advance and as new systems are developed, we plan to work with stakeholders to refine the naming outline to keep the public and industry informed,” Keith Wilson, technical program manager at SAE International, said in a statement.

Check out the full list of safety features and how they fit into the group’s new naming framework. 

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News Editor Jennifer Geiger joined the automotive industry in 2003, much to the delight of her Corvette-obsessed dad. Jennifer is an expert reviewer, certified car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats — many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

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