- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

Backing out of a parking spot in a mall is a surprisingly tricky proposition, especially when your view is blocked on either side by larger trucks or SUVs. Chrysler and Ford recently introduced a new solution that should make this maneuver safer by alerting you to crossing traffic when backing out of vision-blocked parking spots.

Chrysler was first on the market with a system it calls cross path monitoring, which comes as part of its blind spot monitoring package that costs $825. It’s currently available on the Chrysler Town & Country Limited and Dodge Grand Caravan 25th anniversary minivan models. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee will also offer the system.

Chrysler engineers developed the system with Visteon Corp., which manufactures the component. A Visteon spokesman says other Chrysler products will offer the back-up system in future model years.

The rear cross path accident-avoidance system uses sensors in the rear bumper to detect whether vehicles out of your line of vision are approaching the back of the minivan. The system activates whenever you shift into reverse and sounds an alarm inside the vehicle to alert the driver to oncoming cars. In addition, it illuminates a flasher in the sideview mirror closest to approaching traffic.

The system is especially helpful in crowded mall parking lots because the radar can see farther away from the vehicle than a rear camera alone can.

“I really like the rear cross system when you’re backing out of a parking spot and can’t see what’s coming,” said Frank Klegon, Chrysler’s executive vice president of product development.

The Chrysler system uses four wide-band radar units installed in the rear fascia of the minivan. Unlike rear back-up cameras, no images are reproduced on a screen in the cabin, and the electronic transmitters and sensors are not visible.

“You can’t see them at all. They’re behind the fascia and they’re able to read through it,” Mr. Klegon said.

Steve Kozak, Ford’s global safety chief engineer, says he challenged his engineers “to make our blind spot system do extra work. Why can’t we also look down the aisles of parking lots [to spot oncoming vehicles when backing out of a parking spot],” he asked them.

Ford engineers responded with a system developed in collaboration with Valeo. It uses the blind spot system’s two multiple-beam radar modules embedded in the rear fenders of Ford vehicles to “see” 50 feet in either direction to spot oncoming traffic. If the system’s multibeam sensors spot any vehicles traveling at up to 18 mph up to 65 feet away on either side of the car, it sets off an audible alert inside the car and illuminates icons at the base of the speedometer and on the appropriate sideview mirror. No alarm is sounded when vehicles are moving away from your car.

The Valeo system is used in the Ford Taurus, Fusion and Fusion Hybrid. It’s also available in the Mercury Milan and Milan Hybrid, as well as the Lincoln MKT and MKZ models.

Unlike many other advanced electronic safety systems first placed in luxury cars, the newly introduced back-up alert systems are available in moderately priced models. It’s likely that as more people become aware of the benefits of the system, it will become available as standard or optional equipment in other models, including entry-level vehicles.

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