Cars that save you from crashing when you make a mistake – it sounds pure science fiction, dsn’t it? But three new crash prevention systems do just that – and two of them are on cars you can buy today.

Each has just received the thumbs-up from Thatcham – the independent safety research centre – following extensive testing.

Women drivers are less likely to cause major accidents: that’s why their motor insurance is cheaper than men’s. But they are more likely to suffer a minor, low-speed shunt, which is the type of accident these systems are there to prevent.

Thatcham’s crash safety expert, Matthew Avery, described the systems – developed by Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo – as a ‘massive breakthrough’ for keeping motorists safe. Once enough cars have them there will be far fewer crashes and up to 125,000 injuries could be prevented per year.

Volvo’s City Safety system will appear on the XC60, which is due on sale from November. At speeds up to 20mph, a radar watches other traffic. When it senses that a collision is imminent, it applies the brakes and cuts the throttle. Volvo says that it should prevent crashes at up to 10mph and should halve the impact between 10mph and 20mph.

Mercedes-Benz has Distronic Plus, now fitted to some versions of the S-class luxury saloon. It uses twin radars linked to the car’s cruise control to maintain a safe distance between you and the driver in front. It will brake the car to a halt if necessary.

Honda has a similar set-up available on its CR-V off-roader. Called CMBS, it works out the distance and speed difference between you and the car you’re following. Should you get too close, an alarm is tripped and then the brakes are applied. The seat belts also tighten.

Avery said Volvo’s system was particularly good because it could prevent a crash happening. He warned, however, that such systems could tempt drivers to take extra risks, and he cautioned against this.

Thatcham predicts that such systems will soon be widely available, even on smaller, cheaper cars. And, further ahead, devices that watch for pedestrians and even steer the car out of danger will reach drivers relatively soon.

Stephen Jury


February 15, 2008