We covered exciting new technologies in “What’s Next in Car Safety?” Not every potentially life-saving feature needs a massive investment, or invention of next-generation tech.
Here we raise some simpler features that our automotive engineers would like to see on today’s cars. And these could all be readily implemented, using current tech in creative ways.
Wipers on? Lights on.
Headlights make a car more visible in bad weather, says CR automotive engineer Alex Knizek. We think a vehicle’s headlights should automatically turn on when a driver turns on the wipers, just like some vehicles from Ford, Honda, Subaru, and others do. Twenty states already have “wipers on, lights on” laws.
A driver shouldn’t be able to walk away from a vehicle accidentally left in gear, says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR. We believe a car should auto-shift into Park whenever the driver turns off the engine, as some vehicles already do. CR deducts points from a model’s Overall Score if it doesn’t automatically shift into Park or engage the brake when the engine shuts off in Drive or Reverse.
Automatic Engine Shutoff
Leaving a car running in an attached garage can cause carbon monoxide to seep into the home, putting those inside at risk of exposure. CR supports proposed legislation that would mandate technology to shut engines off automatically if a vehicle is left idling in Park for too long. Ford and GM introduced a shutoff feature in 2012; Toyota added one last year.
Adjustable Seat Belts
Some occupants avoid wearing a seat belt if it doesn’t fit comfortably, but some cars lack height-adjustable belts. Simply adding an adjustment feature could save lives. “If your belt is comfortable, it’s more likely you’ll wear it,” says Emily Thomas, PhD, automotive safety engineer at CR.
Better Tire Warnings
Underinflated tires can cause premature wear, waste gas, and worsen handling. Some Nissan vehicles beep the horn when the tires reach the correct pressure during inflation. It’s a lot simpler than a pressure gauge. “All cars should have an alert system to aid proper filling of tires,” says Gene Petersen, tire program manager at CR.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Medicine, the risk of a life-threatening crash is 16 percent greater in bright sunlight. Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s program manager for vehicle interface testing, says the Land Rover Defender comes with an extra visor that sits behind the rearview mirror and really works. “Sun glare is distracting, and more vehicles should come with similar features,” she says.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the August 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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