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GettinG Grilled on the latest in car safety

Dear Car Talk:
I see that new cars have a small
rectangle on the grill of the car.
Some are clear and some are solid.
To my eye, it seems to ruin the
appearance and pattern of the grills.
I was wondering what purpose they
serve. — John
They keep you from crashing into a
parked UPS truck, John, Those are
sensors for the safety systems that
come on more and more new cars.
The newer ones are Lidar sensors

that use laser-based radar to detect
other objects in the road, be they
cars, pedestrians or bicycles. The
Lidar sends out pulses of light, and
by measuring how quickly they
bounce back, it can tell when there’s
an object in front of the car and
how quickly your car is closing in
on it. For instance, let’s say you’re
traveling on the highway, and you’re
going 65 mph in traffic. The Lidar
will know that the car in front of
you is also going 65 mph because
your distance from that car will
remain the same. Everything is fine.
But, what if the car in front of you
suddenly slows down or stops? The
Lidarbased system will immediately
detect that you’re getting closer
and closer to that car, and it will go
on alert. If it sees that your foot is
still on the gas, not the brake, it’ll
conclude that you haven’t noticed

the stopped car in front of you, and
that’s when things get interesting.
Normally, the first thing the
system will do is warn you with a
light. If you ignore that, it’ll add
an audible alarm. And if you still
can’t be pried away from texting
your takeout order to the local
Chinese restaurant, and the system
calculates that you’re going to crash
into the object in front of you, it will
actually apply the brakes to slow the
car and either avoid the crash or
lessen its severity. Pretty cool, huh?
These systems vary from car to car
and come under the generic names
“forward collision warning,” and
“automatic emergency braking.”
Some work at slow speeds only,
while the better ones work at high
speeds, too. And some can detect
non-car objects like pedestrians and

While they’re not perfect, they
are, generally speaking, wonderful
technological advances that will
soon be in all new cars. Plus, they’re
already saving lives, and sheet
metal. At some point, someone will
invent a sensor that can be better
camouflaged into the front of the
car. But until then, I say, who cares?
I’ll take an ugly rectangle on my grill
if it means saving that grill from
getting mangled ... with my own
grill right behind it.
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray
in care of King Features, 628 Virginia
Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email
by visiting the Car Talk website at
© 2019 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug
Berman Distributed by King Features
Syndicate, Inc.