Ford is planning to fit automatic brakes to a large part of the new Focus small family car range arriving next year.
Like Volvo's pioneering City Safety system, the technology will be able to bring the Focus to a complete halt if drivers ignore audible and visible signals warning that a collision with another car is imminent.
Speaking at a safety technology demonstration day, Matthew Avery, crash laboratory manager of the Thatcham motor industry research centre, said he expected the system to be fitted to a wide range of models in the range, even if entry-level cars were unlikely to benefit.
Avery says that by putting auto brakes on more mass-market cars such as the Focus, they would more quickly start to prove their effectiveness in reducing accidents and cutting the cost of insurance.
Currently there are 430,000 whiplash claims a year, costing 1.7 billion, resulting from the kind of low-speed accidents like those which automatic brakes can prevent.
MyKey: Less power to the people
Ford has also recently launched a new 'MyKey' system on its Taurus saloon in the US which can restrict the performance of the car, depending on which key is being used and who is driving it. Avery said he expects such systems to become available in Europe soon, perhaps by 2012.
The idea is that young drivers would be able to use their parents' cars which are likely to be far safer than the older models that the majority of new drivers end up in - without getting into trouble with the power and performance of modern models.
The single biggest killer of young adults under 25 is road accidents, with excessive speed a contributory factor in 30% of accidents (41% in the case of male drivers).
What's it like?
We tried the MyKey system at Thatcham's safety technology day. It allows full acceleration up to a maximum of 80mph legal in some US states and also prevents the stability control from being switched off.
It also restricts the stereo to 50% of its maximum volume to prevent anti-social behaviour and to ensure the inexperienced driver isn't distracted.
Avery says keys like these could tune cars in a number of different ways, however. Acceleration could also be limited and, since young drivers are seven times more likely to be involved in an accident after dark, it could further cut power after the sun's gone down. Cars could even go into a 'limp home' mode between 2AM and 5AM when the risk of accidents in the under 20s leaps by 17 times.
Power could also be reduced when there is more than one person in the car and a young driver may be tempted to show off.