DETROIT — Most drivers have been humbled by a blaring horn after drifting out of their lane, or felt frazzled after slamming on the brakes to stop short of a crash.
So far, the high-tech safety features that can prevent these kinds of mistakes have been available mostly on luxury vehicles.
But the sensors and cameras that make so-called active safety features such as lane-departure and front-collision warnings possible are becoming more affordable, and automakers see a wide use for them across their lineups.
"We are beyond the point where they're trying to put it just on their high-end cars. That was yesterday," said Christian Schumacher, engineering manager specializing in advanced safety systems at Continental Automotive Systems. "Now the push is toward getting into the smaller cars."
Ford Motor Co. has added blind-spot detection as an option to six 2010 model-year vehicles, including the Ford Fusion and Taurus. General Motors Co. offers the lane-departure warning device on the Buick Lucerne and Lacrosse, as well as the Cadillac DTS and STS.
GM plans to start adding a camera system to the front of some vehicles that allows the car to offer driver's lane-departure warning and front-end collision warning during the 2012 model year, said John Capp, GM's director of global safety technology strategies.
"Our strategy is to try to get these types of features into each of our segments and not just make it a situation where only Cadillac customers can get these types of technologies," Capp said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering issuing rules to mandate future use of advanced safety features.
The technology ranges from expensive radar systems — that can add more than $1,000 to the cost of a vehicle — to more affordable camera systems that cost about half as much. A camera can warn a driver when a vehicle is about to collide with another or warn a driver when a vehicle is moving into another lane.
Other technologies that are quickly becoming common in mainstream vehicles, such as electronic stability control and electric steering systems, are making advanced safety features more affordable.
Engineers who are working on advanced safety technologies see them evolving like electronic stability control, which is slated to become standard in all U.S. vehicles during the 2012 model year. With the right sensors, a car can use that same technology to brake when a vehicle is about to rear-end another object. With electric steering and a camera, the car can automatically stay in its lane.
"If we can get these kinds of technologies into vehicles, we can really start to mitigate the driver-distraction issue," said Ken Milburn, marketing manager in product planning for Bosch's chassis systems control division.