Illustration showing common advanced safety features for cars
Illustration: Giacomo Bagnara

Consumer Reports has teamed up with several other organizations advocating for automotive safety to develop standardized names for various new advanced safety systems now found on most new cars so that consumers know what they’re getting when shopping for a vehicle. (See our pdf on clearing the confusion.)

On Jan. 15, the Department of Transportation (DOT) endorsed this list of standardized names. While this endorsement doesn’t mean that automakers will be forced to use the new names, it does signal the agency’s support for consumer-friendly terminology. 

The suggested names are also designed so that consumers understand the limits of the various driver assistance and convenience features. “Currently, there is variance among manufacturers, and standard language will ensure drivers are aware that these systems are designed to ‘assist,’ not replace, an engaged driver,” a DOT spokesperson said in a statement. 

“The names of these features are all over the map right now, and many of them don’t accurately describe what the feature will do or what drivers should expect,” said Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s head of connected and automated vehicles. “There’s a different name on the website, in the owner’s manual, and then in the menu in the car.”

Currently, 93 percent of new vehicles offer at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), such as automatic emergency braking (AEB) or blind spot warning (BSW). But AAA research shows that consumers may encounter as many as 20 names for a single ADAS feature, which can cause confusion.

CR worked with AAA, J.D. Power, and the National Safety Council to develop specific names for 19 individual ADAS systems.

Learn more about advanced car safety systems.

The goal is for safety organizations, automakers, and journalists covering the automotive industry to adopt these standardized names so that consumers can more easily compare and contrast vehicles.

More on Car Safety

For example, Honda calls blind spot warning a “Blind Spot Information System,” while Toyota calls it “Blind Spot Monitor.” On some GM vehicles, it’s called “Lane Change Alert.” A single automaker might use different terms for the same feature on its websites, at dealerships, and in owner’s manuals. As a result, consumers might not understand which features are available on which cars, and risk buying a car without key safety equipment.

“It’s a real struggle to make sure consumers are able to get the safety features they want on their cars when they leave the dealership,” Funkhouser says. “It’s even harder when systems are called different names.”

“It’s important that we all start calling them the same thing,” Funkhouser says. “It will help automakers to advertise their features, dealerships to communicate to consumers, and drivers to have a cohesive understanding of each feature.”

These are the names and definitions of the most common ADAS features. They have been divided into five categories based on their abilities. The list will be refined as new systems are developed.

Driving Control Assistance

Adaptive cruise control: Assists with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a prescribed distance between a vehicle and the car in front. Some systems can make a vehicle come to a stop, then continue.
Active driving assistance: Assists with vehicle acceleration, braking, and steering. Some systems are limited to specific driving conditions. The driver is responsible for the primary task of driving.
Lane keeping assistance: Assists with steering to keep a vehicle within its driving lane.

Collision Warnings

Blind spot warning: Detects vehicles to the rear of a car in adjacent lanes and alerts the driver to their presence.
Forward collision warning: Detects an impending collision with a vehicle in front and alerts the driver. Some systems include pedestrian or other object detection.
Lane departure warning: Monitors a vehicle’s position in its lane and alerts the driver as the vehicle approaches or crosses lane markers.
Parking obstruction warning: Detects obstructions near a vehicle during parking maneuvers.
Rear cross traffic warning: Detects vehicles approaching from the side and rear of a vehicle as it moves in reverse, and alerts the driver.

Collision Intervention

Automatic emergency braking: Detects potential collisions while the car is traveling forward, provides a warning, and automatically applies the brakes to avoid or lessen the severity of an impact. Some systems have pedestrian or other object detection.
Automatic emergency steering: Detects a potential collision and automatically steers to avoid or lessen the severity of the impact. Some systems include pedestrian or other object detection.
Rear automatic braking: Detects a potential collision while a car is moving in reverse and automatically applies the brakes to avoid or lessen the severity of an impact. Some systems include pedestrian or other object detection.

Parking Assistance

Active parking assistance: Controls steering and potentially other functions during parking. The driver may be responsible for acceleration, braking, and gear position. Some systems are capable of parallel and/or perpendicular parking.
Remote parking: Parks a vehicle without the driver being inside. Automatically controls acceleration, braking, steering, and shifting.

Other Driver Assistance Systems

Automatic high beams: Switches between high- and low-beam headlamps automatically based on lighting, surroundings, and traffic.
Backup camera: Provides a view of the area behind a vehicle when in Reverse. Sometimes includes trailer assistance, a system that assists drivers when backing up with a trailer attached.
Driver monitoring: Monitors drivers to determine whether they’re actively engaged in the task of driving. Some systems monitor their eye movement and head position.
Head-up display: Projects an image of vehicle data and/or navigational info into the driver’s forward line of sight.
Night vision: Aids a driver’s vision at night by projecting enhanced images on the instrument cluster or head-up display.
Surround-view camera Uses cameras to provide a 360-degree on-screen view of the immediate surroundings.