An interesting and possibly life saving new safety feature is to be offered on new Ford Fusions in 2012, and it will warn drivers if they begin to drift out of their lane. The car will debut at the North American International Auto Show in January and it's the first time the feature will be offered on a non-luxury car. It's called a lane departure system, and it's meant to warn drivers (particularly sleepy ones) if they start drifting over too far into another car or even off the road.

There's a digital camera on the windshield right in front of the rear-view mirror and it watches the road. The warning sign will cause the steering wheel to shake (not unlike the rumble strips that shake the whole car if you drive on the shoulder), and it can even steer the car back into the proper lane.

Fusion's Lane Keeping System combines a digital imaging sensor with our own state-of-the-art control software to process images and determine what level of warning or assistance to provide to the driver, Michael Kane, Ford development engineer said in a statement. We've put a lot of effort into ensuring the accuracy of the lane detection and the smoothness of the assist.

The official word from Ford:

When the system detects the car is approaching the edge of the lane without a turn signal activated, the lane marker in the icon turns yellow and the steering wheel vibrates to simulate driving over rumble strips. If the driver doesn't respond and continues to drift, the lane icon turns red and EPAS will nudge the steering and the vehicle back toward the center of the lane. If the car continues to drift, the vibration is added again along with the nudge. The driver can overcome assistance and vibration at any time by turning the steering wheel, accelerating or braking.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 100,000 police-reported crashes occur every year because of drowsy drivers, leading to 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion lost.