Toyota’s latest safety pledge by Doron Levin @FortuneMagazine September 5, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Toyota Motor raised the ante for autonomous driving technology by announcing that advanced safety features such as forward-collision avoidance, lane departure and dynamic cruise control will be offered across its product line, including its smallest and least expensive models by 2017. The No. 1 global automaker worldwide in terms of sales also it said will increase investment in its Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan by $35 million over the next five years. The initiative, with multiple academic partners, will focus on automated technology, human-machine interface and wireless communication among vehicles and the transportation infrastructure. Several automakers, including Nissan and Volkswagen, recently have publicized intentions to accelerate introduction of advanced technology that assists drivers and increasingly can control a car’s speed, steer it or avoid an accident. Toyota, however, insists its goal isn’t a driverless car, rather vehicles that are so safe that accidents and casualties would become extremely rare. Google GOOG currently is developing a driverless car. “Our vision is of a world without traffic fatalities, and these advanced connected and automated vehicle technologies hold the potential to revolutionize automotive safety,” said Seigo Kuzumaki, Chief Safety Technology Officer. “We are committed to bringing advanced active safety systems to market as quickly as possible and will make them accessible to a broad range of drivers.” When pressed, however, Toyota executives and engineers concede that driverless cars, operating safely, are feasible and could eventually become available. When they might be ready depends on the pace of vehicle technology, development of communication among vehicles and infrastructure with advanced features such as traffic control systems. Toyota will be one of many exhibitors at the 21st Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit from Sept. 7 to 11. The newest types of cruise control (called “dynamic” or “adaptive,” depending on the manufacturer) already equipped in many luxury models, allow a driver to set a speed, while radar makes sure the vehicle will slow, brake or even stop if a vehicle ahead is slowing or stopping. Lane departure warnings are becoming more common, as are systems that will turn the wheel slightly if a driver inadvertently drifts. Kuzumaki and other engineers emphasize that drivers must remain in control of the vehicle and can’t rely completely on systems meant just to assist them. To ensure a proper level of attention, advanced systems can monitor a driver’s eyes and issue a warning if they stray from the road for too long. Assuming that safety technology becomes popular with consumers, advanced features increasingly may be equipped in less expensive models. They already are common in luxury models, such as Toyota’s Lexus LS460 sedan. Automakers such as Hyundai and Chrysler, which haven’t touted advanced safety features, will face increasing pressure to develop and offer them in their vehicles. Regulators, too, may decide to mandate certain features such as forward collision avoidance. The so-called distracted driving controversy, in which drivers endanger themselves by paying more attention to smartphones than to their driving, may be solved by advanced technology that allows distraction, only more safely.