Electronic safety kit is increasingly available on even the smallest cars. While some equipment, such as the Electronic Stability Control that prevents spins, is standard on virtually every car, drivers have to pay extra for other gizmos. But which are worth the added expense? We look at five safety features and give our rating on whether they’re worth ticking as an optional extra or flicking as a waste of money.
Car electronic safety kit: Autonomous Emergency Braking
What Ford says: “Active City Stop uses a sophisticated light-detecting and ranging sensor to scan the road ahead 50 times every second – more than twice the speed of the movie industry standard frame rate – to help prevent collisions at speeds up to 10mph, and help reduce the severity of impacts at speeds below 20mph.”
What we say: We’ve all had near misses where the car in front has stopped while pulling out of a junction and we’ve been so busy looking for what’s coming that we haven’t noticed. The technology is called different things by different car makers but it’s great for extra peace of mind.
Tick it or flick it? Tick
Car electronic safety kit: Lane departure warning
What Citroën says: “The second-generation Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) which comes with Citroën DS5 and the Citroën C4 Picasso combats drowsiness at the wheel by warning the driver if involuntary lane departure is detected when the vehicle is traveling at speeds in excess of 50mph.”
What we say: In theory this is a great idea. Reality is a little different. It’s fine when you’re driving along a motorway or A-road but as soon as you’re on narrow country lanes it comes unstuck. This is because it thinks you’re crossing the white line involuntarily when frequently you can’t help it.
Tick it or flick it? Give it the flick
Car electronic safety kit: Blind spot monitoring
What Jeep says: “This uses dual ultra-wideband radar sensors to aid the driver when changing lanes or if being passed by or passing unseen vehicles. The system notifies the driver of the vehicle(s) in their blind spot via illuminated icons on the side-view mirror and with a driver-selected audible chime.”
What we say: Anything that helps to keep you from colliding with another car has to be a good thing. But this really is nothing more than an electronic eye in the back of your head. And you can replicate it simply by looking over your shoulder. Where it really comes into its own is when driving a right-hand drive car on Continental motorways.
Tick it or flick it? How expensive is it? We’d be tempted to flick it if it’s a costly extra.
Car electronic safety kit: Sign assist
What Volkswagen says: “Sign Assist helps you comply with regulations and drive safely, reducing the probability of you missing speed limits and no-overtaking signs.”
What we say: This employs a symbol on the instrument display or sat nav to tell you what the speed limit is. Critics might argue this encourages drivers to rely too heavily on the car’s systems rather than their own powers of observation. But it can come in handy, if for example you’re approaching a speed camera and you’ve missed the speed limit signs. Overall, it is a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a ‘must-have’.
Tick it or flick it? Flick
Car electronic safety kit: Parking systems
What SEAT says: “This cool little parking assistant uses four ultrasonic sensors to measure the distance the front and rear of the vehicle is from another object. An audible alert signals to the driver when the vehicle gets too close.”
What we say: You’ve got to marvel at this technology which takes control of the car’s steering, leaving the driver to control the pedals as the car effectively parks itself. For drivers who live in cities and struggle with on-street parking it’s a revelation. For those who have their own parking space or are confident at parking, it’s unnecessary.
Tick it or flick it? Depends on the driver