If you’re in the market for a new family vehicle, from sedans to crossovers to minivans, here are five high-tech safety features to consider before you plunk down your cash and sign on the dotted line.

We all know that airbags save lives and frontal airbags for driver and front passenger are standard on all passenger vehicles. Ditto the important safety feature added years ago that’s now standard on virtually all new passenger vehicles: antilock braking system (ABS). But do you know some of the newer high-tech technology that’s making its way from the formerly exclusive domain of luxury cars to more mainstream family vehicles?

Front-Center Airbag – An industry first, General Motors is introducing the front-center airbag on the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave full-size eight-passenger crossover SUVs. The front-center airbag is designed to protect front-seat occupants from far-side impact crashes. Standard on the 2013 Buick Enclave, the front-center airbag is an option well worth considering on the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.

Lane-Departure Warning System – Its acronym is LDW, and the safety technology uses cameras to sense pavement lane markings and issues an audible alert or steering wheel vibrations to let drivers know they’ve crossed over lane markings without signaling. LDW is widely available today, and not just on luxury models. You can find it on the 2012 Ford Explorer as well as the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion, among other family vehicles.

Blind-Spot Warning System – Some carmakers call this system by various names, such as Side Blind Zone Alert, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and Blind Spot Warning, but the principle is the same. Using radar or camera-based systems to detect and warn a driver that there’s another vehicle adjacent or out of the field of view used to be available only on certain luxury vehicles. Blind spot warning systems are now standard in some family vehicles, such as several Mazda models, and are offered in the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion mid-size sedan, as well as the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia full-size crossover SUVs.

Proximity Warning Systems and Backup Cameras – Even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has delayed making this safety technology mandatory for new vehicles, rearview cameras, or proximity warning systems with backup cameras, are becoming more widely available. What they do is warn the driver of people, animals or objects hidden in the vehicle’s “blind zone.” A multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines is standard on all models of the 2012 Honda CR-V small crossover and the 2012 Dodge Durango has an excellent ParkView backup camera system.

Driver Alert Warning System – Once found only on high-end luxury models, like those from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, today consumers can opt for driver alert warning systems that help prevent them from dozing off at the wheel, veering out of their intended lane or exhibit driver inattentiveness. The systems, available from a number of manufacturers across model lines, issue various kinds of alert warnings. The 2013 Ford Fusion, for example, has Lane Keeping system, which is comprised of three elements: one to alert the drowsy or inattentive driver, one that vibrates the steering wheel if the driver drifts too close to lane markings, and a third that applies pressure to the steering wheel to bring the car back into the proper lane position.

Besides these five high-tech safety features to consider, there are two more worth exploring for your next vehicle purchase. Be sure to check out active brake assist and adaptive (also called active) cruise control. Brake assist applies full braking power after the system detects that the driver has initiated a full emergency stop. The technology is standard on a number of 2012 vehicles. Adaptive cruise control uses radar or laser to maintain a set distance from the vehicle ahead, slowing the vehicle when slower traffic is detected ahead. Newer systems can apply the brakes to maintain safe following distance, when needed.  

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