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Don't Forget About Your Backup Blind Spots
Available ParkFX is the best park assist system to show you the parking boundaries and dangers around you when you're backing up
Kids ‘N Cars, a consumer organization working to make it safer for children to be around cars, is calling attention to the problem of the blind spot--that area behind the vehicle that you can’t
see from the driver’s seat. The organization notes that at least 58 children were backed over and killed last year alone.
How big can the backup blind spot be? We measured a sedan, minivan, SUV, and pickup to find out. We used a 28-inch-high traffic cone, measuring how far behind the vehicle it would have to be before an
average (5 feet 8 inches) and short (5 feet 1 inch) driver could see it. Larger vehicles tend to have a significantly larger blind spot. (Studies show the length of each blind spot; lighter for an average-height
driver, darker for a shorter driver.)
Later in 2006, tests will be published on backup sensors and rear-view video backup warning cameras that could help to reduce the blind-spot problem. It’s best to always look carefully behind the
vehicle before you get in and again before you put the car in gear. Also, always back up slowly.
LaneFX is More Than Just a Car Gadget
Many of the latest car models include systems that alert you when a car is in your
blind spot. Those of us with older autos have had rely on our own road skills -- until now. Drivaware has introduced LaneFX: When you activate your turn signal,
the device moves the corresponding side-view mirror to expose your blind spot and any vehicles that may be hiding in it. Of course, if you remember your driver's training, a quick glance over your
shoulder does essentially the same thing. The LaneFX is compatible with any car that has power mirrors and is available in a Basic Edition ($197), Highway Edition ($242) and Commuter Edition ($296).
Automakers are Designing New Car Gadgets Focused on Driver Safety and Awareness
Safer Lane Changes is Just One of the Latest Trends to Include Advanced Gadgets in New SUV Models
Every new car season brings with it a dazzling assortment of
high-tech gadgets and an equally formidable barrage of hype aimed at romancing you into this year's model.
What's hot and what's hype? We posed that question to Paul Duchene, a national automotive writer based in Portland, Ore.
"There are a lot of gizmos this year and some of them are good, too," he says. "One of the reasons is there are a lot of new models and a whole bunch of updates this year, including
the Nissan 350Z, Mazda's RX-8 and BMW's Z4 and 745i, the car some critics have informally dubbed 'the quarter to eight.'"
Let's put the pedal to the metal and cruise some of this year's hottest new gadgets:
Intelligent cruise control: This lends new dimension to the term "keeping up with the Joneses." Previously, cruise control was a simple proposition: You set your speed and your car
maintained it until you tapped the brake or manually turned it off. Infiniti's new wrinkle uses a laser beam to measure the distance between you and the vehicle ahead and maintains a preset distance
until you disengage it. The upside is you can't tailgate. The downside depends on the driving skills of the guy in front of you.
Directional stability: This is a little like having your mother-in-law in the back seat, only quieter. "You go into a corner too hard and the car basically figures out that it's about to
change direction from where you want it to go and will selectively apply, say, a rear brake on one side just to keep it going in the line that it senses it's pointed," says Duchene. And he
tested it. Hard. "It really works, way past the point that it makes sense."
Mouse control: It had to happen and finally does with BMW's 7 series. That dial-shaped gizmo where a stick shift would normally reside is called iDrive and it controls the heat, air, audio level
and other cabin-related functions. This gives you a sleek, button-free dashboard. Beginners, however, need to look at the in-dash display to use it.
Voice-recognition system: Sure, we all talk, even scream, at our cars on occasion. Now Infiniti presents one that finally listens. The Q45 voice recognition system allows you to change CDs, adjust
the temperature, access your GPS navigation system or make a hands-free cell phone call, all through voice command. The system understands 50,000 words in 150 dialects and even learns the sound
of your voice. Hal, is that you?
Run-flat tires: No matter how high-tech your ride, there are four things all cars have in common, and they still go flat from time to time. Run-flat tires don't prevent flats, but they will get
you to a repair shop. "When you run over a nail and the tire goes flat, if you keep it under 30 miles per hour, it will get you someplace where you can change it," Duchene explains. "Part
of the reason they can do it is that performance tires are much lower profile and deform much less, so you can make stiffer sidewalls."
Mobile entertainment: New minivans approximate all the comforts of home: Pop-down DVD screens, earphone ports, even a remote control to fight over. That takes care of the kids; now what about
Mom and Dad? How about coast-to-coast, commercial-free satellite radio? For the cost of a radio receiver ($300 and up) and service (less than $15 a month), you can receive 70 channels of commercial-free
music and 40 channels of news, talk, sports and entertainment programming from such providers as XM and Sirius.
It sure beats choruses of, "Are we there yet?"
Limp-home mode: How smart is the Cadillac Northstar engine? If you blow a radiator hose, the Northstar automatically reverts to limp-home mode, shutting the gas supply off in several cylinders
and turning the engine into a quasi-air cool system. You won't set any land speed records, but your engine will survive the damage you unwittingly might have done to it.
DVD navigation: Because of the limited data storage capacity of earlier onboard GPS satellite-navigation systems, you had to reinstall a different CD of map displays if you wanted to travel to
other parts of the country. With the new DVD-based systems, all of North America is now your oyster. Does it play movies, too? Duchene chuckles: "The Lexus system has the ability to play movie
DVDs on its screen, but it won't play if you're in gear, so you can't be watching a movie while you're driving down the road." We really didn't think so, but had to ask.
Automatic braking: Remember your mother-in-law in the back seat? Here's a feature that cleverly simulates the effect of her panicked stranglehold on you in a traffic crisis. "There are brake
systems now that have a brains-override thing where they figure you're not braking hard enough for what's going on and will actually add power to the brakes," Duchene says. Easier on the esophagus,
Head restraint, side curtains and pre-tensioners: Luxury cars feature all the safety money can buy. In addition to standard forward and side airbags, many models now come with inflatable head-restraint
bands along the top of the windshield and inflatable side window curtains. The Lexus system automatically cinches up your seat belt with pre-tensioners just milliseconds before impact. Cadillac's
Escalade SUV uses sensors to analyze the size and weight of front-seat passengers and automatically deactivates the front air bag if it detects a child or rear-facing child seat riding shotgun. "Though
not yet on the market, the car companies are developing a 'catcher's mitt' seat that, if things go wrong, just kind of grabs you and holds you in place," says Duchene.
Back-up assistance: If parallel parking is not your strong suit, you'll be pleased to hear about a couple systems designed to give you a better look at your rear end. GM's Ultrasonic Rear Parking
Assistant uses four sensors to triangulate the position of objects behind you and guides you with both an audible chime and LED lights at the back window. Infiniti's RearView Monitor goes one step
further and actually displays on the dashboard monitor a full-color video from a rear-mounted mini-cam. Now all you've got to do is find a parking space.
Automatic accident reporting: In the event of an accident, your car can now phone for help, even if you can't. "Some of this stuff now, if you have a crash, the car calls home and 911 and
says, 'I've been hurt,'" Duchene says. "But that has its drawbacks. As one of my friends pointed out, sometimes when you make a mistake, you could use about 20 minutes to get away."
LaneFX is Leading the Way for Auto Safety and Driver Awareness Everyday
Drive Safer With the Drivaware LaneFX: Most
of the time, when consumer electronics meet the automotive world, you get more stereo options and DVD players in the back seat. Drivaware has something a little more useful: the LaneFX,
a controller than connects your power mirrors to your turn signals, so that when you signal (you do signal before you turn, right?), your mirrors swivel outward so that you can
see your blind spot. Hey, if this keeps just one cyclist out of the hospital, I’m happy.
Derik’s Thoughts: Geeky and useful. Double threat!
LaneFX Standard Features to Make Every Lane Change Safer
Q. Even though LaneFX is ultra simple concept, you've managed to make LaneFX a very feature rich product. Correct?
A. Absolutely. Let me give you a brief walk through of the features and
add-on options of the LaneFX system:
- First we talked about the universal fit of LaneFX.
- Second, ease of installation (which you have to remember quick installations mean less cost of
ownership to the customer and faster seamless installations mean higher customer satisfaction). The way we were about to simplified installation on hundreds if not thousands of power mirror systems
is by using an Intelligent Learn Technology. So all the installer has to do is hook up a set of 3 wires on either side of LaneFX module. And then all the installer has to do is start learn mode
and the unit "learns" the
wiring setup of the vehicle and configures itself on that basis. No complex wiring diagram, no programming required.
- Third, all mirror movements are fully customizable at installation. We wanted to make
LaneFX as responsive to the driver and tailored to the driver's preferences as possible. So with every LaneFX unit, each driver can customize how far the mirror opens up, how long it pauses when it
gets there, and even how fast the mirror should move. You can control your preferences separately for the right and left mirror.
- LaneFX is intended to be a
concealed unit either under the dash or in the trunk. So these adjustments should be made at installation and you can always tweak them or change occasionally after that.
- Another feature we offer in
the system is control of both mirrors. So you control the left and right mirror separately or concurrently.
Q. And all of these features you mentioned are standard in every LaneFX box?
A. Yes. That's correct.
Q. But I also understand that you have a number of optional add-on components that a customer can choose to further enhance his/hers LaneFX system.
A. Our team has worked very diligently to research
what consumers would like to have in their complete LaneFX system. Let me share with you a quick list of what some of these options are:
- First is a very inexpensive add-on component we have that we think
is going to be very popular, especially among entry level domestic vehicles is the optional Mirror Speed Boost. With this component owners of vehicles with slow moving power mirrors
can safely boost their mirror movement speeds up to 200% of OEM speed. This will provide drivers with a way to ensure that LaneFX movement is responsive to their driving needs. All of the mirror speeds
are customizable by the driver from 80% to 200% of OEM speed, and those adjustments can be done separately for left and right mirrors.
- Second we have a great optional component that's quite frankly
is a driver awareness system in and of itself: ParkFX. ParkFX is an active park assist and curb exposure system that uses your side mirrors
to expose the parking boundaries around your vehicle as your backing up. Much in the same LaneFX moves your mirror outward to expose the blind spot next to you and behind you, ParkFX
tilts the blind spot mirror downward when you put the vehicle in reverse to expose either
the parking lines let's say if you were in a mall parking lot, or more importantly to expose the curb in parallel parking situations. When you take the car out of reverse, the mirror comes back to
its original position, every single time. Just like LaneFX, ParkFX is universal and fully-customizable to the driver's preferences. The system
works on any vehicle, new or old, domestic or import, manual or automatic transmission. And you can choose to have ParkFX control the left, right or both mirrors. And to be complete, you can also configure
at installation how much ParkFX should tilt each of these mirrors when the vehicle is backing up. So for a big SUV, you can choose the blind spot mirrors to tilt down farther than say someone who drives
a small sedan. Everything is universal and fully-customizable to your needs.
- Thirdly is an add-on component we are very proud of: our Turn Signal Link integration kit. I put my blinker on and that activates
LaneFX to show me my blind spot before I change lanes? Yes exactly. And you can also configure the Turn Signal Link integration kit to activate only when the vehicle is moving above certain speed,
like over 55mph to have it only activate on when you're on the highway, or say over 35mph in an urban city setting.
- The forth in our options list is a plug-and-play wireless controls kit. We've heard time and time again that drivers would
ideally like the LaneFX controls at the finger tips, just like your horn or turn signal stalk. this tiny module I am holding is an example of a left-hand wireless control. So we designed this wireless
kit so that installers never have to worry about running wires to the steering wheel (which is a no no) and to give the customer to place the controls anywhere. The wireless controls kit includes two
controls for left and right and is designed to fit behind one of your steering-wheel spokes. The placement is meant to avoid competing with the increasing number of OEM buttons on the front
of the steering wheel. Also the placement behind the top spoke make the LaneFX control within the reach of a finger tip without having to move a hand off the steering wheel regardless in you drive
with your hands in the 10-to-2 position or racing style.
- One more plug-and-play optional component which is our Speed Sensitivity Mode. This is an
add-on component that integrates with OBDII port of virtually any vehicle and continuously reads the vehicle speed. The LaneFX module is pre-programmed to take advantage of this option and it then
produces more dynamic mirror movement based on the vehicle speed. This ensures an ever greater degree of responsiveness to the driver's needs in real-time. So LaneFX moves the mirror faster at say
70mph than at 55mph? Exactly right, and it also pauses less when it reaches its maximum expansion angle at higher speeds.
Compare Backup Sensors & Cameras to ParkFX
Get the Latest Information on the Most Reliable Backup Warning Technologies
Not all reversing aids are equal. The sensing technology and the indicating method are critical to your driving safety.
How a park assist system alerts you
One option is video, which at first seems like a great choice. But one major flaw with having a video camera affixed to the back of your car with a monitor on your dashboard is
that it also forces you to look forward while backing up. That can disturb your perception, your reaction time, and feel very unnatural. They are also extremely expensive, and you'll pay thousands
of dollars to have a video system attached to your car, whether from the dealer or an aftermarket supplier.
Compare that to other bargain basement devices which actually have LED displays (little red lights) on your dashboard. These are cumbersome
-- almost useless -- for much the same reason as video: when you drive in reverse, you naturally look behind you, and you'll never see the little red lights. They are also hard to read in bright
Some other bargain technologies use a tone which beeps more rapidly as you get closer to an obstacle. You can at least hear the relative distance just by listening to the beeps,
but you have to practice a bit to really understand how far you are from danger.
That's why an audible voice sensor is best. It tells you in a spoken voice exactly how far away you are. Not only do you not have to awkwardly look forward at your dashboard,
you'll know without guessing how much further you can safely back up.
How a reversing aid detects objects
If you've never seen or used a reversing aid, you might be surprised at how technically advanced they actually can be.
Reversing aids use a variety of technologies to sense an object behind the car. Some units use Doppler radar, and others use infrared sensors, but by far the most accurate method of detection
is the one the U.S. Navy uses on its submarines: sonar.
Sonar can operate in any weather, including direct sunlight or rain. And it doesn't require that the car be moving in order to sense an obstruction.
Moms Put ParkFX to the Test
There are no government statistics, but some estimate the family car killed as many as 500 children across the country last year. And the accidents happened in their own driveways.
While some may wonder what kind of parent could do that, Rachel Clemens said it could happen to just about anyone.
Two years ago, her daughter Adrianna wandered out of her Garland home.
That’s when Adrianna's father accidentally backed over the child with his SUV.
"He didn't see her," Clemens said. "That was the last day I saw my daughter alive."
So, how could you not see a child behind the family car?
Three Dallas moms agreed to take a safety test with the understanding that they would not know exactly what the tests were about.
While they were distracted filling out a questionnaire, Drivaware and Safe4Kids placed an orange cone about 8-feet behind their vehicles and the drivers were then asked to back up.
All three plowed right over the cone.
"Did I just run over something?" Adrienne Ludlow as said as she backed up.
"Oh, I hit the cone," said Amy Gordon.
"I figured it was a branch or something," said Merideth Manning.
Drivaware and Safe4Kids measured the blind spot behind each of their vehicles. The Honda Pilot had a blind spot over 30 feet, an Infiniti G35 about 18 feet and a Chevy Tahoe more than 35 feet.
The eye-opening experiment had all three women interested in the same thing, which was looking into safety equipment like ParkFX or a rear sensor that beeps faster the closer a driver gets to an object.
Safety cameras mounted on the rear of car are also available. The cameras relay a picture of the blind spot to a screen on the dashboard.
Both technologies are available on new cars with after-market installation costs less than $500.
"I would absolutely buy it, but wouldn't think of it until you came over and showed me how dangerous this could possibly be," Gordon said.
Attorney Windle Turley represents the Clemens family, which sued Nissan, the maker of the family's SUV. They claim the technology should have been standard equipment. The case is still pending.
"Manufacturers take off this needed safety equipment so they can market their vehicle a little bit lower in price than their competitors; and that's really wrong,” Turley said.
The trade group representing automakers says, "the best defense against back-over accidents is to check around the vehicle before you back up."
"That does not work and you're sending the wrong signal,” Clemens said.
Clemens, and several lawmakers in Washington, support legislation that would require automakers to put back-over safety equipment on all new cars.
Experts say it would add up to $200 to the price.
"To me, I think to anybody, any parent, the cost is nothing compared to a child's life," Clemens said.
There are no official numbers, but one safety group estimates that in Texas more than 90 children have been killed in or around parked vehicles in the last 15 years.
ParkFX is the 360-Degree Backup Solution That's Less Costly Than Backup Sensors, Park Assist and Rearview Cameras
Deaths increase. Ninety-one children were killed in 2003 by drivers who didn’t see them while backing up, according to Kids and Cars ( www.kidsandcars.org ),
a nonprofit organization working to improve child safety around vehicles. Those deaths represented a 57 percent increase from 2002. During the first six months of 2004, more than 40 deaths have
been attributed to backover accidents, many involving vehicles with large blind spots.
Kids and Cars compiles these statistics; the federal government does not track such incidents. Janette Fennell, president of the organization, believes that backover accidents are underreported
and that the actual number of children killed or injured is much higher.
Blind spots grow with vehicle size. A likely reason for the increase in injuries is that minivans, pickups, and SUVs account for more than half of all vehicles sold. Many
have large rear-view blind spots.
Last year, Consumer Reports began measuring the blind spot of each vehicle we test, checking the distance for short drivers (5 feet 1 inch tall) and
for those of average height (5 feet 8 inches tall). The biggest blind spot: 51 feet for a short driver in a Chevrolet Avalanche pickup. But even small sedans can have blind spots of more than 40
feet. We regularly update vehicle blind-spot information, which is available on this site free of charge in The
problem of blind spots.
Systems other than ParkFX combine a camera with sensors, so we tested each system independently; it is listed with camera systems in the Ratings.
All the systems we tested are potentially useful. They’re a good complement to looking around the vehicle before entering, and checking the rear window and rear-view mirror just before and
while moving in reverse.