Toyota Adding Affordable Auto-Braking Systems: An Active-Safety Tipping Point?

April 13, 2015

Toyota recently announced plans to make what has been a rather exclusive kind of active-safety system a lot more accessible—by making affordable auto-braking systems available on most of its model lines within the next year.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

While such systems—the kind that will help slow you for an impending collision—are no longer a rarity in the industry, the way that Toyota is offering them is. Starting with the 2016 Toyota RAV4, they’ll be available on most of Toyota’s mainstream models within the next year—and all of the brand’s models and trim levels by the end of 2017—as part of a Toyota Safety Sense package, to be priced at just $300 to $500 per vehicle in most cases.

That will at last bring more heated competition that should, within the next year or two, push automakers that are still stingier on active-safety features to offer them on a wider range of trims and models.

Up until now, Subaru has been one of the few automakers to offer such a system, called EyeSight, on nearly all of its models—even the lower-cost trims. For instance, EyeSight is currently available on the 2015 Subaru Legacy, as part of an $1,195 option package, on the Legacy 2.5i Premium—adding up to a bottom-line price of less than $26,000 for this all-wheel-drive model.

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Potentially lifesaving—and a lot easier on the wallet

The 2015 Toyota Camry offers a $750 Advanced Technology Package and $500 Blind Spot Monitor system, but that’s only offered on top XLE and XSE models (at a minimum of $32,115, optioned with those systems), not the more affordable LE and SE models. Toyota’s recent announcement would likely change that for next year, bringing the features to all models, and making some safety-conscious family decisions a lot easier on the wallet.

And if you follow safety recommendations from some of the top authorities on the matter, you’ll choose an active-safety feature with automatic-braking in your next vehicle. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), front crash prevention systems that incorporate automatic braking have been shown to reduce insurance claims for front-into-rear collisions by about 14 percent.

“We’re also seeing reductions in injury claims,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the IIHS, who notes that Toyota’s announcement is an important development, simply because more people are going to have access to the technology that’s preventing crashes. “The Toyota announcement is an indication that automatic braking is going to become a common safety feature across the board.”

The IIHS now requires auto-braking systems—available as an option, at the least—in order for models to achieve the organization’s Top Safety Pick+ designation. In the future the IIHS might push for those features to be widely available, or perhaps standard, for models to make that ‘honor roll’ of safest vehicles—a list that continues to push automakers to make such systems more widely available.

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Market pressures helping push out active-safety sooner

“Safety sells and no automaker wants to be seen as behind the curve,” said Rader.

Toyota Safety Sense

Toyota Safety Sense

Toyota’s new package, on smaller cars, is called ‘Toyota Safety Sense C,’ and it brings together a Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert, and automatic high beam systems.

The Pre-Collision System uses laser radar and camera systems to detect objects and vehicles ahead, then warns the driver audibly and visually, and in the absence of action applies the brakes to cut the closing speed by the vehicle by around 20 mph. The system operates from around 6 mph up to 50 mph—the range where Toyota says that at least 80 percent of rear-end collisions occur.

Lane Departure Alert simply uses a camera system to detect lane markings, then warns with audible and visual alerts if the system interprets them as having strayed from the lane. And finally, the automatic high beam system in these models uses a camera system to detect headlights from oncoming vehicles, as well as the taillamps of cars ahead, automatically switching between beam patterns.

On mid-size and larger cars and crossovers, ‘Toyota Safety Sense P’ adds a pedestrian detection function to the pre-collision system, as well as radar cruise-control functionality.

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Following Volvo and Subaru

In the luxury sector, Volvo has been the only brand to offer such active systems (its City Safety suite of features) standard across its model line. Toyota has revealed a companion strategy for its Lexus luxury brand that will follow a similar low-cost option price.

Automakers see this as image-building in a safety-conscious market—certainly something that safety-minded shoppers can be thankful for. Now that Toyota's jumped on the bandwagon, you can be better assured that GM, Ford, Honda, VW, and other mainstream brands will more widely offer such systems by the time you're next looking to trade in.

“Vehicles are doing a better job protecting people when crashes happen,” summed Rader, “but new technology is going to help prevent a lot of crashes from happening in the first place.”

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