Plagued by tire-safety problems, Ford Motor Company this week is expected to announce a new "Traffic View" system that uses forward-facing video cameras in its cars' side mirrors, designed to give drivers a 360-degree view of the road, writes Detroit Bureau Chief Keith Naughton in the October 30 issue of Newsweek. The system would also feature a camera mounted inside the car that will beam the occupants' image to the emergency room preparing to treat them if they do get into an accident. And if they are unconscious, the ambulance will find them because their car's navigation system will signal a Global Positioning satellite.

At other major auto companies, too, engineers are hard at work on the next generation of "crash avoidance" technology -- electronic sensors, radar, lasers and satellites -- as safety takes on an even larger role in the auto industry, Naughton writes in the issue (on newsstands Monday, October 23). Even before the Ford-Firestone tire recall, the auto industry began transforming how cars are designed and marketed with a strong focus on safety.

According to a new Newsweek Poll, an overwhelming majority of registered voters said that a car's safety features and safety record are either the single most important consideration (52%) or an important consideration (40%) to them when purchasing a car -- and 83 percent said they are willing to spend more money to buy a safer car. Only 14 percent said they weren't willing to spend more. The poll also shows that 55 percent think the government is not doing enough to require automobile manufacturers to provide information about the safety and accident records of the cars they sell (35% said the government was doing enough). Some of the innovations being worked on and expected to be available in 3 to 10 years include:

  • Sensors embedded in bumpers, doors and seats that will anticipate a crash and direct all the car's safety devices to work in harmony to
    allow the occupants to survive. Soon air bags will pop out at the
    knees and feet and automakers will introduce "smart airbags" which
    won't deploy when children are seated in front of them. Based on the
    angle and speed of the impact, airbags will fire at a precise velocity -- or not at all -- while "smart" seat belts will instantly retract to snug occupants in their seats and then, a fraction of a second later, slacken to allow them to "ride down the crash" to avoid whiplash and broken ribs.

  • Air bags on front bumpers of cars would blow out when a car detects a pedestrian about to be hit.

  • Japan is testing an intelligent highway, which uses Global Positioning satellites and road sensors to warn drivers of hazards in their path.
If the driver doesn't take evasive measures, the eye in the sky takes
control and steers him out of harms way.