HANNOVER, Germany – Advanced driver-assist systems have been overshadowed in recent years by non-traditional automakers showing off prototype autonomous cars, but government mandates and competition among automakers for top safety scores will result in numerous self-driving features being adopted during the next five years.

In fact, automakers began installing them on cars and some commercial vehicles in Europe several years ago.

These features don’t allow drivers to read a book while behind the wheel, but they do enable vehicles to brake automatically and swerve out of harm’s way. And they promise to save thousands of lives annually.

“We could save a town the size of San Francisco each year (with ADAS systems),” says Wilfried Mehr, head of the Europe Business Unit for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems at auto supplier Continental.

It looks like the classic race between the tortoise and the hare. Companies such as Google and Tesla periodically show off futuristic self-driving technology that gets lots of attention and gives the impression they are surging ahead of incumbent automakers. 

Yet traditional automakers and suppliers such as Continental, Bosch, TRW, Delphi and others are implementing a steady stream of incremental advances aimed at preventing deaths and injuries that are going almost unnoticed, yet promise to transform mobility by the end of the decade.

For instance, by 2020, typical new cars won’t be able to drive themselves to your child’s school and pick her up. But if she suddenly steps into traffic while walking home, a large percentage of new vehicles will be required to detect her presence and brake automatically if the driver does not react. And cars sold in Europe and some other regions will have to detect her in the dark or if she is hidden from sight and walking out from between two parked cars.

In about the same time frame, a typical pickup truck won’t be able drive you home from a long day at work, but if you fall asleep behind the wheel, it likely will be capable of preventing you from drifting off the road and hitting a tree.