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Driver-Assistance Features Explained

Active safety features keep you safe on the road

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When the new Nissan Frontier mid-size pickup truck was launched in the USA this year, it succeeded a predecessor that was very outdated in terms of safety and driver-assistance features. So, it is disappointing that the new model comes with so few driver-assistance features as standard, namely forward-collision warning with emergency braking and pedestrian detection, a trailer-sway-control system, and a driver-alertness system.


The other locally available Nissan pickup truck, the Titan, is far better equipped, adding blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert even on the base model. Even the Nissan Versa small sedan offers more driver-assistance features than the Frontier, with lane-departure warning as standard. Sadly, trucks don’t always have the same safety features as cars, but this is changing as trucks are increasingly used as family vehicles.

What Are Driver-Assistance Features?

Passive safety features are features that help you survive a crash, such as crumple zones, seatbelts, and airbags. By comparison, active safety features - which help you avoid an accident in the first place - and driver-assistance features fall in this category.

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Here are a few of the most important ones:


  • Braking and vehicle control: ABS brakes prevent a car’s brakes from locking up in an emergency stop, preventing an uncontrolled skid. Vehicle stability control brakes individual wheels to prevent a loss of control when swerving or cornering quickly. These are compulsory systems on all new cars sold in America.
  • Automatic controls: Some cars have sensors that automatically activate the wipers and the headlights, the latter often with automatic high-beam control. Automatically dimming interior and exterior mirrors also belong here.
  • Forward-detection systems: Various levels of forward-detection systems are available, the most basic of which can warn you if you approach a vehicle too quickly from behind. More intelligent systems not only warn you but can brake automatically. These systems often recognize pedestrians and cyclists too and work in tandem with adaptive cruise control systems to keep your following distance automatically. These often include traffic-jam assist with automatic stopping and starting.
  • Rear-detection systems: The most basic is the now-compulsory backup camera, but additional systems include rear park sensors, automatic reverse braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and systems that warn you if a car is approaching quickly from behind, even in the adjacent lane.
  • Lane-departure systems: The simples lane systems only warn you visually and/or audibly that there is a vehicle in your blind spot. More advanced versions incorporate active steering control to trace your lane and keep you in it. The best systems can even safely and automatically perform lane changes upon your instruction.
  • Visual and guidance aids: Head-up displays can provide you with information directly on the windshield in your line of sight, without having to take your eyes off the road. Navigation systems guide you both audibly and visually, often in conjunction with the head-up display.

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Democratizing Safety

As we’ve mentioned, several driver-assistance features are standard even on the cheapest new car, crossover, and SUV models. However, commercial vehicles and trucks have often taken a back seat to cars in this regard. With trucks being the most popular new vehicles in America - and often used as family vehicles - they should get the same treatment, regardless of how much they cost. Be sure to not only check out a vehicle’s performance and fuel economy but also which safety and driver-assistance features are standard and optional before buying. This is even more important on older, used vehicles, which will generally have fewer.


Manufacturers such as Nissan have already proven that safety does not have to cost a lot of money. The Nissan Versa achieved five stars overall for crash safety at the NHTSA and is equipped with several driver-assistance features, despite its base MSRP of less than $15,000. It is now time, not only for Nissan but for all automakers, to equip all their vehicles with these basic features. If even the Versa, one of the cheapest sedans in the country, can offer decent safety, there’s no reason to settle for a vehicle that doesn’t.