Long live the road trip! According to recent survey, a large majority of British Columbia motorists plan on taking a driving vacation this summer.
Fatigue on long drives, especially on straight highway stretches, can result in inadequate following distances and inattentiveness on the part of the driver.
While most drivers recognize the important of planning ahead such as servicing a vehicle before a road trip, auto manufacturers have also been adding new technology to their vehicles to make driving easier but more importantly safer for everyone.
These latest driver aids are the opening volleys towards a semi-autonomous driving future. One that promises increased speed, safety, and efficiency, as well as reduced fatigue.
In this second of a three-part series, we’ll be taking a closer look at active blind spot warning systems, designed to help drivers change lanes safely.
Although luxury cars are the most likely to have blind spot monitoring systems, the equipment prices are dropping rapidly. These days even inexpensive compact SUVs, such as the AJAC award-winning Mazda CX-5 compact SUV, are optionally available with such systems.
The technology behind it
A typical blind spot monitoring system uses short-range radar units or ultrasonic sensors mounted on the sides of the car. These sensors are usually located in the vicinity of the external rear view mirrors or near the rear bumper.
Most of these systems monitor traffic in a zone which extends from around 70 metres behind the car to a point just ahead of the driver. This, of course, includes the so-called “blind spot” area.
When one of these sensors “notices” another vehicle getting too friendly with your car, the computer flashes visual warning lights within your peripheral vision to warn of a vehicle in your blind spot. Some vehicles may also supplement the visual warning with an audio warning chime. On certain vehicles, such as in some BMWs, a tactile alert is also provided to the driver in the form of steering wheel vibration.
Active blindspot warning systems with cross-traffic alert
On the most advanced systems, typically found in luxury marques, the car can even provide steering wheel guidance via the electronic power steering system, or by gently clamping down on either side of the rear brakes to pull the vehicle back in line within the safety zone of the previous lane.
Other systems, such as Audi’s Side Assist or Jaguar Land Rover’s Blind Spot Monitor, also include a cross traffic alert function. By measuring the distance and speed of vehicles approaching from behind, both these systems are able to calculate whether or not a change of lane would be hazardous.
If the driver activates the turn signal to indicate a lane change manoeuvre, a warning light in the mirror flashes quickly and intensely to signify that the action may be potentially dangerous if a vehicle is approaching too quickly from behind.
While Honda does not currently offer a traditional ultrasonic or radar-based blind spot warning system on their vehicles, they do offer a lower cost camera-based system that works extremely well.
For more information, read my previous article on Honda’s LaneWatch system.
Proper driver attention still required
No safety system or combination of such systems can prevent all accidents, and it’s important to note that while useful as driver aids, these systems are not a replacement for safe and attentive driving.
Though these systems are designed make the occupants of these cars “safer,” the stark reality is each vehicle is a still several-ton, high-speed projectile of ever increasing power and terminal velocity.