New Car Tech, Safety Features Put Parents in Control
Plus: Recommendations for new parents
Every so many years, it comes time to retire your well‑worn, comfortable car and find something that fits your changing needs.
If it’s your first time car shopping with young kids in mind, here’s a bit of a heads-up: It’s a whole new world out there. You’ll still want to consider cargo space for road trips and how many kids you can fit into your vehicle for carpool, but improvements in technology and safety features are selling points for automakers across all brands and models.
“The amount of safety and technology is really overwhelming,” says Carrie Kim, managing editor of autobytel.com, an automotive media company for AutoWeb. “When you don’t shop for a car every year, a lot can change. A lot of people are buying cars and they don’t have any idea how much that car can do.”
Here is a look at some of the in-demand features that are changing the vehicle-buying landscape.
Forward Collision Warning/Automatic Emergency Braking
This technology provides visual and/or audible warnings intended to alert the driver and prevent a collision.
“Every car is a little bit different,” says Jenni Newman, editor of cars.com, a website that publishes objective reviews of new cars. “In some cases, it might slow your car down enough so the collision isn’t as bad as it could have been, or it could stop the car altogether. It depends on how fast you’re traveling and what the distance is between you and the stopped car.”
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
These systems are designed for simplified access to your mobile device apps, using larger touch targets on the dashboard screen. Drivers can use the software for driving directions, music streaming, hands-free phone calls and text messages, and more.
“I do think it helps — not only by making life a little easier, but by limiting distractions while you’re driving,” Newman says.
Keep in mind, however, that more access isn’t always a good idea.
“After a while, it can be an overload,” Newman says. “You have to recognize that just because it’s hands-free doesn’t mean that it’s completely distraction-free.”
Wi-Fi Hot Spots, USB and HDMI Ports
Auto manufacturers are responding to increased demand for connectivity for a variety of applications. Various vehicle brands and models now include ports to accommodate second- and third-row occupants.
Built-in Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available in new cars, allowing all passengers to connect. Cars with built-in Wi-Fi typically have a large antenna, which receives a strong signal for streaming video and downloading movies. This feature comes with additional data plan costs.
Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Rear cross traffic alert sensors offer visual, audible or touch notification if an object or vehicle out of rear-camera range enters your backing path. Advanced versions of this technology can indicate the direction of the approaching car.
Blind Spot Warning System
This feature allows you to receive visual and/or audible notification of vehicles approaching alongside your car. The system may provide an additional warning if you use your turn signal when there is a car in the lane next to you.
Lane Keeping Assist/Lane Departure Warning
These sensors detect when a car crosses the lane markings. If the driver does not correct his or her steering, the car gently coasts back to the center of the lane.
Safe Exit Assist
Hyundai offers a technology bundle called SmartSense, which now includes sensors that help drivers avoid accidents when passengers leave the vehicle. If a vehicle is approaching, the system will warn the driver not to unlock the rear doors. This offers an added layer of protection during neighborhood or school drop-offs.
Teen Driver Safety Features
Some car companies offer features designed specifically for safe teen driving. Ford MyKey technology allows parents to set specific driving mode settings for teens on most models.
“You can set a speed limit, (track) the car, keep them within a range,” Kim says. “There are speeding alerts. The car won’t start unless they have seat belts on. It’s kind of like a driving coach when you’re not there.”
Chevy’s teen driver technology allows parents to enable Teen Driver mode, which is activated when a registered key fob is used to start the vehicle. This mutes the radio until the driver and front passenger seat belts are fastened. It also enables parents to select a speed warning (between 40-75 mph) that activates a visual warning and an audible chime if the top speed is exceeded, and limits the maximum speed to 85 mph.
Chevy’s 2020 Traverse, Malibu and Colorado will also include an industry first: the Buckle to Drive feature, which is only available in Teen Driver mode and prevents a driver from shifting the vehicle out of park until his or her seat belt is buckled.
Many of these new technologies and safety features used to only be included in high-end brands and models, but that is changing.
“What’s exciting about this technology is it’s going to become standard in September 2022, but automakers are already starting to put it in these cars,” Newman says. “As they’re redesigning them, they want to be ready for the switch. You’re going to see this in the less expensive cars, and that makes it more accessible for a lot more drivers.”
The availability of affordable new cars with advanced safety features might cause parents to rethink their car-shopping priorities when considering what kind of vehicle to buy for a recently licensed teen.
“The 2020 Nissan Versa is coming out and it has automatic emergency braking,” Newman says. “They haven’t released pricing, but the 2019 version started at $14,000.”
All of this is good news for families who need to watch their expenses. “A lot of people can’t afford a minivan, which can be upwards of $50,000,” Kim says. “It’s really nice to know these safety-feature suites are being offered on the total lineups of these car companies.”
Kurt Dusterberg covers the Carolina Hurricanes for NHL.com and is the author of “Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.”
New Car Recommendations for New Parents
Cars.com: The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica seats seven or eight passengers, depending on the interior configuration. On the dual-screen Uconnect Theater, kids can play games and videos, as well as stream from their own devices to individual screens. Second-row bucket seats fold into the floor bins. It’s available in both gas and plug-in hybrid models. $26,985-$44,445.
Autobytel.com: The 2020 Kia Telluride is a midsize SUV with room for eight passengers and is more affordable than others in its class. It comes with Kia DRIVE WiSE, which offers an extensive suite of advanced safety features. Standards include a one-touch slide-and-fold second row of seats and rear climate controls. $31,690-$41,490.
Car Seat Technology
If you’re in the market for a new car because you’re expecting a little bundle of joy, you’ll need to consider how car seats fit into the equation.
Jenni Newman, editor of cars.com and a certified car seat technician, takes 40 hours of continuing education classes each year and participates in community training events. She says the one thing most new parents don’t realize is that car seats have expiration dates. Some are 10 years, others are five.
“Think about how hot or cold your car can get through the seasons,” Newman says. “In the Carolinas, you get really hot. That car seat is also getting hot and the plastic is expanding and contracting over the years, and at some point it weakens its ability to protect your child.”
That’s why she believes parents should think twice about installing a pre-owned car seat.
“As car seat technicians, we encourage people not to accept hand-me-down car seats,” she says. “You don’t know the history of it. It could have been in a fender bender and have a crack in it that nobody realizes is there. You don’t want to have your child riding in a compromised car seat.”
Infant car seats vary widely in price, from $80 to $500. However, all of them must meet federal safety regulations.
If you already have a car seat, Newman recommends taking it to the dealership before you buy a car to see how it fits with the seat configuration and ensure it anchors in the seat correctly.
For more information on car seat options, search “2018 Car Seat Check Honor Roll” at cars.com.