The car technology keeping you safe

group of suv vehicles driving in different lanes

Matt Harvey

Posted January 14, 2021

Eight high-tech safety features worth having in your car.

Although we’re a long way from the arrival of a fully self-driving car, vehicle manufacturers are rolling out an extensive range of automated features that promise to make motoring easier and, more importantly, safer than ever before. Ranking at the top of these is autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a vehicle safety system designed to avoid or minimise the severity of a crash. 

AEB systems use a variety of sensors including cameras, lasers and radars to monitor the view ahead and detect obstructions in a vehicle’s path. If the driver does not respond, the vehicle automatically applies the brakes.  

Many AEB systems not only detect other vehicles, they can also detect the presence of pedestrians and cyclists to avoid or reduce the impact of a crash.

RACV has long supported this and other lifesaving vehicle technologies and welcomes news that Australia has moved one step closer to making AEB systems mandatory.  

The federal government has called for comment on a proposed new rule that would require all new models launched from July 2022, and all new vehicles sold from July 2024, to be fitted with AEB that's capable of detecting both cars and pedestrians. That timing aligns with the planned introduction of similar rules in Europe. 

RACV has formally supported the proposal but RACV’s senior engineer for vehicles, Nicholas Platt, says there is room for the government to go further. He says Australia should follow Europe's lead and mandate that all cars sold here include a range of the latest safety systems, including emergency lane-keeping technology, driver drowsiness detection and intelligent speed assist.  

“Since there is no local vehicle manufacturing industry to consider there is no reason why these promising technologies shouldn’t be made compulsory like they will be in Europe,” he says, adding that in 2024 European countries will also require that cars be equipped with an enhanced AEB that better recognises cyclists. “That’s a technology that would greatly benefit Australian road users too,” he says. 

Car safety technology has come a long way over the past 10 years. Although many of these features are not yet compulsory, even the more affordable new cars are now likely to come equipped with advanced safety technology – if not as standard, then as optional extras.  

Here are some of the features to look out for and how they work.

wide shot of highwsay with trees on either side of road

Lane-support systems help keep drivers on track.

Eight high-tech safety features worth having in your car


Autonomous emergency braking

Autonomous emergency braking uses radar, laser or camera sensors to detect potential crashes and apply the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of a crash.

The technology is very effective in situations where there is poor visibility, a driver is distracted or has limited time to react to things like sudden braking of a car in front or a child running out in front of the car. 

AEB is available in a number of forms designed to react to different situations involving other cars, pedestrians, cyclist and even wildlife. Broadly there are four types:

Low speed: Best suited for city driving where crashes often occur at low speeds but can nevertheless cause debilitating injury, such as whiplash. These systems look for the reflectivity of other vehicles and are not as sensitive to pedestrians or roadside objects.

High speed: These systems utilise long-range radar to scan further ahead of the vehicle (up to 200 metres) at higher speeds.

Pedestrian systems: Use a camera combined with a radar to detect pedestrians by their shape and characteristics. The pedestrians’ movement relative to the path of the vehicle is calculated to determine whether they’re in danger of being struck. 

Reversing AEB: Designed to brake a reversing vehicle when it’s about to strike an object. This includes pedestrians as well as inanimate items.

Blind-spot warning

Blind-spot warning helps the driver change lanes safely by detecting whether there are other vehicles in the driver’s ‘blind spot’. Although there is no substitute for performing a head check, these systems will help detect objects in the driver’s blind spot, especially if they have reduced flexibility. The system will usually warn of the presence of other vehicles by a light on the side mirror and then sound an audible warning (or vibrate the steering wheel) if the driver starts to change lanes. Manufacturers are also developing these systems to detect approaching cyclists when the car is stationary. 

Rear cross-traffic alert

Cross-traffic assist systems are designed to help the driver in situations where they can’t see other cars crossing their path when reversing. The systems usually give an audible tone and visual warning when a car is detected. Higher-feature systems automatically brake the car if the driver fails to stop, to avoid a crash.  

Active cruise control 

Active or adaptive cruise uses the same sensors as AEB to keep a constant distance between you and the car ahead, in addition to the set speed of normal cruise control. This has the dual benefit of maintaining a safe gap but also enabling a more efficient and relaxing use of throttle and brake. Some systems operate even in stationary traffic – perfect for congested roads. 

female cyclist in light brown coat riding over tram tracks

Many autonomous emergency braking systems can detect pedestrians and cyclists.

Lane-support systems

There are a few types of steering-assist systems to help drivers. Lane-departure warning systems are designed to help reduce crashes by alerting drowsy or distracted drivers that their vehicle has drifted, using audible and visible warnings for drivers to take corrective action. Lane-keep assist can automatically redirect the car back into its driving lane. Emergency lane-keeping systems act more like AEB and will intervene aggressively, when a critical situation, such as a sudden road departure, is detected. 

Brake assist 

Emergency brake assist detects when emergency braking is required in ‘panic stop’ situations by automatically increasing brake pressure to stop the vehicle sooner than if the driver were braking unassisted. It’s particularly useful for people with limited strength in their lower limbs. 

Attention assist and fatigue reminders

Attention-assist systems use sensors to monitor driver attention and detect drowsiness, alerting the driver and prompting a rest break. A fatigue-reminder system monitors the length of continuous driving (trip timer) and encourages the driver to take a rest through visual alert messages that are displayed for the driver. 

Some more advanced systems now use interior cameras to monitor the driver – detecting changes in things like facial orientation and blinking that might indicate fatigue or inattention. Manufacturers such as Volvo are developing systems that will use this data to allow the car’s safety systems to intervene and stop the car safely when a drowsy, inattentive or intoxicated driver is behind the wheel. 

Intelligent speed assist 

These systems are designed to intervene when a driver exceeds the speed limit. Most proposed systems are of the ‘soft stop’ type which means the driver is able to over-ride the system if needed in an emergency. 

Intelligent speed-assist systems use data from the road and inputs such as GPS to determine the speed limit for a particular road and can adapt to roads where temporary limits might be applied. This is one technology where rollout in Australia might need additional work due to marked differences in road signs that the vehicle is required to read.