- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Imagine a car that will automatically brake and tighten seat belts before a collision, or a truck that prevents itself from tipping over by slowing down around a sharp turn.

These aren’t fantasies. These safety features and others are on the market or will be soon, manufacturers say.

The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association held its first New Vehicle Technology Ride and Drive yesterday at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where 10 manufacturers showed off their latest safety wares.

“It’s almost like a virtual bumper,” said Frank Lubischer, a technical director at TRW Automotive, describing a new safety feature called Collision Mitigation. After the driver turns it on, sensors determine whether the car is likely to collide based on the vehicle’s speed and distance to an object in its path. The car’s brakes automatically engage if a vehicle in front of it comes to a sudden stop.

The feature will be offered as an option this year or next in luxury vehicles, said John Wilkerson, a senior communications manager at TRW Automotive. It is an enhancement of TRW’s Adaptive Cruise Control, introduced in Europe in 2003 in the Volkswagen Phaeton and planned for introduction in the U.S. later this year in the VW Passat. The system uses radar to reduce a vehicle’s speed when traffic ahead slows down, Mr. Wilkerson said.

Delphi Corp. showcased a similar pre-crash warning system. Radar sensors signal a car to slow down and tighten its seat belts right before a head-on collision.

“Before you hit it, you know you’re going to hit,” said Jiyoung Lee, global marketing manager for Delphi.

This safety feature probably won’t be on the market until 2009, although a manufacturer could buy it now for any passenger car, van or sport utility vehicle, Ms. Lee said.

Continental Automotive Systems previewed a lane departure warning system that makes the driver’s seat vibrate or gives the steering wheel a slight nudge if the vehicle drifts out of a travel lane when the turn signal isn’t on.

The technology won’t be on the market for a couple of years, said Aru Sharma, a Continental product engineer.

Yesterday’s event emphasized truck safety, too. Delphi Side Alert warns a trucker when a vehicle is in his blind spot by lighting up an orange icon in the corner of his side-view mirror.

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems showcased a feature that helps prevent heavy trucks from rolling over, which happens in the United States about 40 times a day, according to the manufacturer.

The Bendix ABS Advanced with ESP system has been installed in more than 20,000 trucks in the past three years, said Bendix test driver Charlie Ross.

When the system’s sensors detect instability around a turn, the truck is forced to slow down, he said.

“You reach a threshold when it says, ‘This is the point where you’re going to tip over — I’m going to do something about it,’” Mr. Ross said.

“It slows down to get below the threshold [where] you would tip over.”

Volvo officials were so impressed with the feature that they decided to make it standard on all the company’s tractor-trailers last year, said Frank A. Bio, product manager for the Swedish company.

“Our best sales people are using it as a sales tool. And they’re seeing customers calling in and asking about it because they’re starting to hear the stories,” Mr. Bio said.

“Right now, [demand] is going to continue to rise until we see legislation to make it mandatory.”

The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 8,000 manufacturers, sponsored yesterday’s event to “raise awareness of what’s available and what can be done,” said Robert McKenna, president of the Raleigh, N.C., trade group.

“A lot of these technologies can literally save thousands of lives.”

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