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An Option On New Cars Now Proven To Save Lives

Volvo, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Acura and Infiniti among companies offering it

A new study seems to validate that a radar-based collision avoidance system in a vehicle will substantially lower a driver's chance of being in an accident.

Swedish automaker Volvo has such a system on its XC60 crossover, called "City Safety." The system uses infra-red laser sensors to spot likely accidents about to happen at speeds ranging from 2 mph to 19 mph. If the driver fails to react in time to avoid the accident, the system automatically kicks in and activates the car's brakes.

The Volvo has been involved in 27% fewer property damage events than other mid-sized luxury SUVs, according to a report released by the Highway Loss Data Institute. The XC60 was also involved in 51% fewer "bodily injury" incidents. The real validation for the Volvo system, though, came from the finding that the XC60 was 19% less likely than other Volvos to be involved in an accident, thus putting aside the idea that the numbers would favor Volvo over other brands because buyers of the Swedish cars tend to drive more cautiously than other drivers.

This is exactly what the company needed to help overcome the spectacular failures it had testing its avoidance radar system for media in 2010. The car avoidance system failed in front of Swedish journalists in May, resulting in a Swedish news piece showing a car smashing into the back of a truck. Even without subtitles, it's clear the piece was an embarrassment.

In September, videos of cars plowing down mannequins meant to represent pedestrians hit the Internet, resulting in a lot of snarky laughter and doubt that Volvo's safety systems work as intended.

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Volvo has long marketed its brand around safety, pitching the cars as being better protectors of drivers and their occupants than other brands, so the findings, the first of their kind to validate such systems, is a boon to their image.

The survey by the Highway Loss Data Institute suggests that collision avoidance systems can help distracted motorists. Driver error accounts for 90 percent of all crashes. According to Volvo, 75% of all crashes occur at speeds below 18 mph.

Later this year, the Institute plans to study the effectiveness of collision avoidance systems designed for higher speeds.

How does it work? AOL Autos has demonstrated the technology at auto shows. The system uses laser and radar to detect cars up to 20 feet ahead by picking up reflections from tail-lamps, glass, license plates and even the vehicle's paint. If a driver has not applied the brakes, the system does it automatically.

The "technology package" in which the system is offered on the XC60 costs $2,100.

Other vehicles and car companies have systems similar to Volvo's that try to accomplish the same thing.

Ford developed a radar-based active collision avoidance system that combines auditory warnings, like chimes ringing, with braking to help reduce the incidence and severity of accidents. The Collision Warning part of the system uses radar to detect moving vehicles and stationary objects ahead of the driver, and sounds an alarm when the computer detects the driver not reacting.

Other models that offer collision avoidance systems include the BMW 5-Series and 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz E Class and S Class, Acura RL and Infiniti FX, Lincoln MKT and MKS and Ford Taurus.

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