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In-car safety technology

Car safety technology explained

Cars now manufacturers offer a broad choice of different features that can help keep you safe while driving. 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.

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

Primary safety features

  • are features or technologies that help the driver avoid being involved in an accident, such as braking systems (crash avoidance)
  • give feedback or warnings to motorists, or by taking partial or full control of some of the vehicle’s functions, such as braking or steering

Secondary safety 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 primary features.

The three types of in-car technologies

Passive Information Systems

  • 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)
  • Increasingly available in new vehicles, sometimes at an extra cost, or as part of a package with other technologies

Find out which safety technologies are available in different popular cars

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 shown in the range and scope of autonomous and semi-autonomous braking systems now available.

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.

ESC, CBC and TCS - 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.

See also:

Last updated: June 2018

Safety for older drivers | Car tech to help older and disabled motorists | Safety technologies in popular cars