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Active Safety Devices

New aftermarket systems bring high-tech driver’s aids to any car.

Cutting-edge active safety technologies promise to make cars safer. One-upping passive safety gear like seatbelts and airbags that protect you during a crash, active safety electronics help drivers avoid accidents altogether. Manufacturers are installing this high-tech gadgetry as optional equipment on many new models. Literally the bells and whistles of modern automotive safety, these advanced systems warn you when you veer out of your lane, encroach on a car in your blind spot or get dangerously close to a car or object ahead.

Generally automakers bundle such technology with upscale entertainment and convenience features as part of expensive option packages. This can add thousands of dollars to an already shocking sticker price. High-tech features eventually trickle down over several model years from the top-of-the-line "flagship" models to mid- and entry-level models as the price of the technology drops. Electronic stability control, now mandatory equipment on all new cars sold in the U.S., is the perfect example. But what if you’re not buying a new car? Or what if a particular safety feature isn't available as original equipment on a new model you're considering?

Great news! You can retrofit many of the latest active safety features and driver’s aids to virtually any car--whether new or just new to you--for a fraction of the cost with aftermarket components installed by certified mobile electronics installers.

Here are five active safety features that can keep you and your car safe:

Back-up Camera: 
Research from consumer safety group Kids and Cars shows that of the nearly 1,300 vehicle-related, non-traffic child fatalities between 2002 and 2007, 44% were due to vehicle “back-overs.” Rear-facing “back-up” cameras will not only save you from reversing into a pole in the supermarket parking lot, they also save lives. A small camera installed near your rear license plate provides a wide-angle view of the area directly behind your car and is activated when you shift into reverse. You can choose from several aftermarket solutions ranging from plug-and-play kits you hookup yourself to professionally installed systems that integrate with the screen on your portable navigation device, aftermarket in-dash receiver or factory-installed display.

Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning:
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 30,000 vehicle occupants die in automobile accidents every year. Half of these are the result of frontal crashes. Lane Departure Warning systems aim to reduce such accidents by warning the driver in enough time to react. These systems use a small forward-facing camera--typically mounted inconspicuously to the backside of your rearview mirror--to monitor the road ahead of you. The camera recognizes the painted lane markings and alerts you both audibly and visually if your vehicle is veering outside the lines. Similarly, Forward Collision Warning alerts you to slow or stopped vehicles in the lane ahead, giving you enough time to react and avoid rear-ending them. Commercial vehicle and trucking fleets have relied on these systems to keep their vehicles and drivers safe for almost a decade, and now these same solutions are finally available to consumers.

Blind Spot Detection:
NHTSA reports that as much as five percent of collisions in the U.S. are a result of improper lane change. Blind Spot Detection technology aims to put a dent in that number. Now available as aftermarket equipment, Blind Spot Detection systems alert you to vehicles or other objects beyond your peripheral vision. They use small cameras in each side mirror to continually monitor the lanes on either side. LED status lights signal you when there is a vehicle in your blind spot. As with all active safety features, you can easily activate or deactivate Blind Spot Detection based on driving conditions.

Proximity Sensors (Parking Aids):
Using nickel-sized ultrasonic transceivers in the front and rear bumpers, Proximity Sensor systems (a.k.a. Parking Aids) produce audible “beeps” which change in pitch and frequency to alert you as you approach objects. Identical to those in new cars, aftermarket parking aids employ multiple sensors installed in both the front and rear bumpers and a dash-mounted display to provide visual and audible alerts that make parking a lot easier. Proximity sensors are more than a driver's aid; they are an active safety feature that can help you avoid low-speed (e.g., parking lot) and back-over accidents.

Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS):
Tires are arguably one of the most critical safety components on a car, as they are the only part in contact with the road. Maintaining proper air pressure is essential, yet it’s something few of us ever take the time and effort to check. TPMS, now a government mandate on all new cars, are a simple-but-proven active safety feature. Using sensors mounted inside the wheels or in the valve stem caps, these systems alert you the instant the air pressure in one or more tires drops below a critical threshold. These systems are available in the aftermarket and are one of the most affordable safety upgrades you can add to your car. Most solutions use electronic valve stem caps that communicate wirelessly to a small receiver inside the cockpit. Some indicate only when a tire is low, while others give you a numerical read-out of the air pressure in each tire.

These are just five active safety features you can add to your car. Proper installation of any of these safety systems is critically important. While a few are simple plug-and-play products, most are not. Identify retailers and professional installers credentialed by the MECP program to perform your installation.

Safe travels!