New safety technology paves the way for driverless cars

Some of the most important technological advances in automobiles today aren't about making them faster or more fuel-efficient. The goal is to make them safer.

That may not sound that exciting -- but safety is one of the main features consumers care about when they're buying a car, said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports.

Furthermore -- also more exciting -- those same advances are leading to full driverless capability for our cars.

For starters, consider new technology to help drivers avoid crashes.

"New crash mitigation technology will warn you if you are about to have an accident and will actually hit the brakes for you if there is something impending," said Fischer, who was interviewed and the New York International Auto Show. "It really makes a big difference and is going to save lives."

Then there are more passive technologies -- like alerts and cameras.

"You can see what's behind you, to the side of you and all around the car," he said. "That's great. They will let you know if there's someone in your blind spot."

Driverless cars, like the ones Nissan and Google have been working on, won't be commercially available for some time, Fischer said. But these technologies are the building blocks. "Eventually there will be driverless cars, but until then we are going to see a lot of pieces of that puzzle."

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