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Infiniti's new "blueprint" safety vehicle. 21/4/04
Nissan's Infiniti division this year will be the first U.S. company to offer lane departure warning systems, technology that could dramatically cut down on one of the leading causes of highway traffic accidents and could offset the growing concern that drivers have too many distractions from cell phones and entertainment systems.

Being shown off in its M Concept car the feature is expected to make its appearance in about a year's time when the next generation Infiniti M45 sports sedan is launched. The vehicle is also expected to have pre-crash seat belts that rely on a series of sensors which calculate the rate of approach of the vehicle to a hazard and pre-tension the seat belts in anticipation of a collision.

The lane departure warning system from Valeo uses miniature video sensors mounted in the side mirrors and is supported by proprietary software algorithms which detect inadvertent lane changes. If a driver changes lanes without using his direction indicators, a lighted icon appears on the instrument panel and a loud beep signals the driver. The US Department of Transportation says 55 percent of fatal accidents are caused by unintended lane departure. In 2002, the most recent year of statistics available, there were more than six million vehicle crashes in the U.S., causing over 42,000 fatalities, nearly three million injuries and more than $230 million in property damage, largely as a result of inattention.

The system is expected to contribute to increased driver awareness of the importance of concentration and lane discipline when driving. The Department of Transportation has supported development of lane departure systems through its "Intelligent Vehicle Initiative," a series of studies seeking improvements in technology, regulation and transportation infrastructure. A study examining lane departure and driver distraction will conclude this year.

While Infiniti has led the way in the deployment of the system, most other manufacturers, including Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Honda have similar plans.

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