Clearing the Confusion About Advanced Car-Safety Feature Names

CR is working to standardize terms so that consumers can be certain about what they’re buying

nomenclature Illustration: Giacomo Bagnara

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are becoming more common in new cars. While these features add convenience and safety, their names often confuse car buyers—especially when different automakers use different terms for the same feature. As a result, it can be hard for car shoppers to find the features they want and to compare models. 

To address that confusion, Consumer Reports worked with the automotive and auto safety groups AAA, J.D. Power, the National Safety Council, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), and SAE International to develop a list of standardized names designed so that consumers know what they’re getting when shopping for a vehicle. Originally released in 2020, the list has been updated to include technologies such as driver monitoring and lane centering assistance, which are becoming more common on new vehicles. (Download the Clearing the Confusion pdf.)

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While automakers aren’t forced to use the new names, there’s widespread industry support for consumer-friendly terminology. In addition, the list was endorsed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in January 2020.

“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,” says 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.”

All but a handful of new vehicles offer at least one ADAS feature, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB) or blind spot warning (BSW). Many vehicles include multiple ADAS features. But AAA research shows that consumers may encounter as many as 20 names for a single ADAS feature.

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. In addition, standardized names will help them better understand new features as they debut across different makes and models.

For example, Audi calls blind spot warning “Audi side assist,” while Toyota calls it “blind spot monitor.” On some GM vehicles, it’s called “side blind zone 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 one 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 continues. “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 six categories based on their abilities. The list will be refined as new systems are developed.

Collision Warning

  • Blind spot warning: Detects vehicles in the blind spot while driving and notifies the driver of their presence. Some systems provide an additional warning if the driver activates the turn signal.
  • Forward collision warning: Detects a potential collision with a vehicle ahead and alerts the driver. Some systems also provide alerts for pedestrians or other objects.
  • Lane departure warning: Monitors a vehicle’s position within the driving lane and alerts the driver as the vehicle approaches or crosses lane markers.
  • Parking collision warning: Detects objects close to the vehicle during parking maneuvers and notifies the driver.
  • Rear cross traffic warning: Detects vehicles approaching from the side at the rear of the vehicle while in reverse gear and alerts the driver. Some systems also warn of pedestrians or other objects.

Collision Intervention

  • Automatic emergency braking: Detects potential collisions with a vehicle ahead, provides forward collision warning, and automatically brakes to avoid a collision or lessen the severity of impact. Some systems also detect pedestrians or other objects.
  • Automatic emergency steering: Detects potential collisions with a vehicle ahead and automatically steers to avoid or lessen the severity of impact. Some systems also detect pedestrians or other objects.
  • Lane keeping assistance: Provides steering support to assist the driver in keeping the vehicle in its lane. The system reacts only when the vehicle approaches or crosses a lane line or road edge.
  • Reverse automatic emergency braking: Detects potential collisions while in reverse gear and automatically brakes to avoid or lessen the severity of impact. Some systems also detect pedestrians or other objects.

Driving Control Assistance

  • Adaptive cruise control: Cruise control that also assists with acceleration and/or braking to maintain a driver-selected gap with the vehicle in front. Some systems can come to a stop and then continue, while others can’t.
  • Lane centering assistance: Provides steering support to assist the driver in continuously maintaining the vehicle at or near the center of the lane.
  • Active driving assistance: Simultaneous use of lane centering assistance and adaptive cruise control features. The driver must constantly supervise this support feature and maintain responsibility for driving.

Parking Assistance

  • Backup camera: Displays the area behind the vehicle when in reverse gear.
  • Surround view camera: Displays the immediate surroundings of some or all sides of the vehicle while stopped or during low-speed maneuvers.
  • Active parking assistance: Assists with steering and potentially other functions during parking maneuvers. The driver may be required to accelerate, brake, and/or select gear position. Some systems are capable of parallel and/or perpendicular parking. The driver must constantly supervise this support feature and maintain responsibility for parking.
  • Remote parking assistance: Without the driver being inside the vehicle, provides steering, braking, accelerating and/or gear selection while moving a vehicle into or out of a parking space. The driver must constantly supervise this support feature and maintain responsibility for parking.
  • Trailer assistance: Assists the driver with visual guidance while backing toward a trailer or during backing maneuvers with a trailer attached. Some systems may provide additional images while driving or backing with a trailer. Some systems may provide steering assistance during backing maneuvers.

Driver Monitoring

  • Indirect driver monitoring system: Observes vehicle states, motions and/or driver performance indicators to estimate driver distraction, inattention, or misuse. This may include monitoring steering wheel input, vehicle sway within the lane, or a combination of other factors monitored by the vehicle systems. Some systems may provide a warning to the driver and/or limit the use of other features.
  • Direct driver monitoring system: Detects the driver’s eye and/or head movement to estimate where he or she is looking. Some systems may provide a warning to the driver and/or limit the use of other features.
  • Driver re-engagement system: A series of escalating warnings and interventions that attempt to engage an unresponsive driver. If the or she doesn’t respond, the system brings the vehicle to a full stop while maintaining steering control. Some systems may steer the vehicle to the side of the road and/or make an emergency call if the driver fails to respond.

Other Driver Assistance Systems

  • Automatic high beams: Switches between high- and low-beam headlamps automatically based on lighting and traffic.
  • Head-up display: Projects information relevant to driving into the driver’s forward line of sight.
  • Night vision: Improves forward visibility at night by projecting enhanced images on the instrument cluster or head-up display.

Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.