Consumer research for older and disabled people

Text Size:

Current Size: 100%

In-car safety technology

Car safety technology explained

Car manufacturers offer a broad choice of different features that can help keep you safe while driving. Here we explain the safety technologies available.

Also see:

In-car safety technology features are classed as primary or secondary safety features.

Primary safety features

These are features or technologies that should help the driver avoid being involved in an accident, such as braking systems (crash avoidance)

Secondary safety features

Secondary features refer to the protection that a car can give when involved in an accident, like airbags (crash worthiness)

Most in-car safety technologies are in the primary category. They're designed to make driving safer by giving feedback or warnings to motorists, or by taking partial or full control of some of the vehicle’s functions, such as braking or steering, to help prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.

Many of these technologies will be useful to older or disabled motorists because they can help with specific tasks that some people may find difficult, like steering or parking.

What are the different in-car technologies?

There are three main types of in-car technologies:

Passive Information Systems

These include:

  • Satellite navigation
  • Night vision
  • Bind spot detection
  • Head up displays

Semi-Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems

These systems can assist the driver by taking partial control of the vehicle’s brakes or steering and can easily be overridden by the driver:

  • Assistive parking
  • Automated cruise control
  • Emergency brake assist
  • Drowsiness detection and control
  • Lane departure warning
  • Intelligent speed adaptation
  • Collision avoidance

Fully Autonomous Vehicle and Control Safety Systems

These systems can take full control of the vehicle from the driver to avoid or minimise the effects of accidents:

  • Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
  • Electronic stability control (ESC)

Many of these safety technologies are increasingly available in a wide range of different vehicles (usually at an extra cost) and can often be bought as part of a package with other technologies.

Find out which safety technologies are available in different cars: Which car? Which safety technology?

Parking and braking systems

Image: parallel parkingParking

Parallel parking (reversing a car into a space between two other parked cars) can be a challenge to many people. Turning the steering wheel the right amount at the right time requires precise judgment and good all-round visibility. This action can be even more difficult if you have restricted upper body movement.

Technology can help the driver with parking in two ways:

  • Providing an audio or visual alert to inform how close the vehicle is to other parked cars
  • Taking control of the steering wheel and turning it to the correct position for the space


Advances in braking technology are most apparent in the range and scope of autonomous and semi-autonomous braking systems available on modern cars.

Since 2007, anti-lock braking systems (ABS) have been fitted to new cars in the European Union (EU) by law. When the system detects that a wheel is no longer rotating and is starting to skid, the ABS will release the brake for a very short amount of time and then reapply the brake.

These early ABSs have evolved to include additional sensors, providing more sophisticated car controls such as:

  • Emergency brake assist (EBA)
  • Electronic stability control (ESC)
  • Cornering brake control (CBC)
  • Traction control system (TCS)

EBA will apply extra force to the brake if the system detects a sudden and relatively hard force applied to the brake. The other braking systems (ESC, CBC and TCS), all control the braking of individual wheels to prevent or minimise spins and sideways skids whilst cornering.

We would like to thank the GEM Road Safety Charity and Motability's Tenth Anniversary Trust for funding this research.

Last updated: December 2016

Safety for older drivers | Who can in-car technology help?| See also: Motoring research