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New Toyota tech will automatically shut off engines, apply parking brakes

2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Many safety features focus on protecting people when a car is on the move, but Toyota is deploying tech for when cars are stationary. The Japanese automaker will launch features that automatically shut off engines and apply parking brakes on 2020 model-year vehicles. These simple additions could make a big difference in safety.

Toyota’s Automatic Engine Shut-off feature will turn off an engine after a certain period of time if the driver doesn’t respond to audio or visual warnings. Currently, Toyota vehicles are only capable of warning the driver that a car has been left running. Toyota also plans to add smartphone app notifications at a later date. The ability to automatically shut off the engine could be a useful feature in Toyota’s many hybrids, which often switch to electric power when the car is stationary. The lack of engine noise can cause drivers to forget the car is running. If the gasoline engine switches back on to recharge the battery pack in an enclosed environment, such as a garage, it could lead to asphyxiation.

Toyota’s second new safety feature is Automatic Park. Despite the name, it doesn’t automatically steer a car into a parking space. Once the car is stationary, it will automatically shift the vehicle into park and apply the parking brake, in the event the driver gets out of the car without doing so. As with Automatic Engine Shut Off, Automatic Park is a feature largely necessitated by changes in technology.

Automatic Park was designed for cars with electronic shifters, which don’t provide any mechanical feedback to indicate which position they are in. Eliminating the physical shifter mechanism frees up space on the center console, but the lack of tactile feedback can also confuse drivers. A car accidentally left in drive, neutral, or reverse, rather than park, can accidentally rollaway. Circumstances like this were blamed for the 2016 death of actor Anton Yelchin.

The two new safety features will roll out on Toyota vehicles for the 2020 model year, and will likely be added to models from the automaker’s Lexus luxury brand as well. Toyota did not say if the features will be standard across the board, but it has been fairly aggressive in adding safety features and driver aids as standard equipment. Even the humble Toyota Corolla gets standard adaptive cruise control, putting some more expensive cars to shame.

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