updated 8/25/2006 1:13:38 AM ET 2006-08-25T05:13:38

Cars equipped with the latest safety technology already warn drivers about oncoming cars. Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday that it had developed the world’s first system for detecting rear-end collisions before they happen.

A radar device is installed in the rear bumper to detect a vehicle approaching from behind.

Sensors in the front headrests detect the position of the driver’s and front passenger’s heads, and shift the headrests’ position to reduce the risk of whiplash injury, it said. Hazard lights also start flashing to warn the driver of a possible crash from behind.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said a sophisticated computer like “a human brain” will be installed in the Lexus LS luxury model going on sale in Japan in September to pack the latest safety features such as the rear-end pre-crash system.

In pursuit of perfection
The rear-end crash system will not yet be offered in the U.S. and European plans are undecided, but the Lexus going on sale will offer the other safety features, said executive vice-president Kazuo Okamoto.

“We are determined in our pursuit to develop vehicles that will have zero traffic accidents,” he told reporters at a Toyota facility west of Tokyo.

Another new safety feature developed by Toyota can detect pedestrians in addition to oncoming cars and other obstacles, it said.

The system uses a newly developed camera called stereo camera that can detect information on three-dimensional objects, in addition to the more common radar. An infrared projector in the headlights supports nighttime visibility, it said.

When the system detects a pedestrian or other objects, the seatbelts retract. If the driver fails to brake, pre-crash brakes kick in to reduce speed to try not to run over that person.

Safety for pedestrians is an especially pressing need in Japan, where roads tend to be narrow and more congested, and pedestrian fatalities are more common than in the U.S. and Europe.

Guilt-free gizmos sell
The emphasis on sophisticated technology is part of the effort by the world’s leading automakers, including Toyota, to woo customers at a time when nearly all cars are becoming sophisticated.

Green cars that alleviate the guilt of drivers about global warming and pollution are another way the manufacturers are trying to differentiate their products.

Toyota is the world’s second biggest automaker after General Motors Corp. in global vehicle production and sales, and some analysts say Toyota will overtake GM as the top automaker in a few years.

Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand is well-known outside Japan but it was introduced here only last year, 16 years after it was introduced in the United States.

In Japan, where Toyota controls 46 percent of the overall auto market excluding minicars, the Lexus still lags behind European makers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz in status for high-end cars.

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