Lifesaving extras

Three safety features that every car buyer should get are electronic stability control, side-curtain air bags, and antilock brakes. But many models are offering lots of other safety features, too. ShopSmart's Jody Rohlena discusses five lifesaving extras you'll want to have in your new car.

A lane-departure warning system can give you an audible and visual alert if it senses your car is drifting from its lane without a turn signal on. A blind-spot warning system lets you know that a car that might be hidden is close to yours in the next lane. Both systems are currently available mostly on higher-end cars. And as often with good safety features, it can take a while for such innovations to trickle down to lower-prices models.

In many vehicles it's hard to see what's behind the car (lamp-posts, pets, kids) when you're backing up. Many models now have back-up cameras that show the area on an in-cabin screen. Some systems go even further; some Infinitis provide a 360-degree bird's-eye view of the entire area about the car. Chrysler and Ford offer systems that use radar to detect cross traffic, handy when you're backing onto a busy road or out of a parking space.

If you're injured in an accident, every second counts. Many vehicles now have systems that can automatically call for help when a car's air bags are deployed and get emergency assistance on the way, even if the driver is unconscious. GM's OnStar, Mercedes-Benz's mbrace, and similar systems use built-in technology to notify a 24-hour call center. Most charge a fee, although some offer an initial free trial period.

A new Volvo system uses cameras to detect pedestrians in front of the car and judges whether the car is slowing down quickly enough to avoid hitting them. If it isn't, the system automatically applies the brakes and, if the car is going less than 22mph, can even bring it to a full stop.

Safety belts can save lives, but they can also cause injuries. The redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer offers rear-seat passengers safety belts that inflate, like mini air bags, in a front or side crash. Ford says the belts provide head and neck support, spread the impact over a wider area, and are compatible with child seats.

For more information on new car features and other consumer topics, click here.