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Consumer Reports tests new safety features in cars

August 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you're in the market for a new car, fuel economy, price and reliability are probably on the top of your check list. Of course, safety is always an important concern. Consumer Reports sized up some of the latest safety features offered in vehicles.

Nissan has come up with an expanded notion of a rear-view camera. It offers 360-degree visibility so you can see all around the vehicle.

"These systems can prove really beneficial in tight quarters, and especially if you have kids that might be around your car because they give you a double check of your surroundings. The key to using them, though, is you have to kind of train yourself to look at the monitors," said Jennifer Stockburger of Consumer Reports.

Another new safety feature Consumer Reports likes is a blind-spot alert system that lights up when a vehicle is in your blind spot, so you know not to change lanes.

But some other safety features are not impressing testers.

"Pre-crash warning systems, what they do is alert you if you're approaching a vehicle ahead of you or something in front of you. What testers found, though, is that they were a bit overly sensitive, and they were going off even in safe, normal driving conditions," Stockburger said.

Consumer Reports says far better are automatic braking systems, like Volvo's City Safety. It can stop your vehicle if you get too close to something in front of you.

Lane departure is another new feature, designed to signal if you've drifted out of your lane. But testers found it also can be too sensitive.

"We found that they gave too many warnings when you were driving on secondary roads where you cross and approach the center line more often," Stockburger said.

While some of these safety features are a plus, none are meant to take the place of keeping your eyes on the road.

The two safety features Consumer Reports considers a must are electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. Both features will be standard on every 2012 vehicle. Consumer Reports advises when shopping for a used car, be sure to look for one that has both.

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