While present-day vehicles may not yet be “driverless”, the car industry is including a multitude of features to help give drivers a taste of the future, enabling a safer system. In a current project, ARRB, ConnectEast and LaTrobe University, on behalf of VicRoads, has engaged with a variety of vehicle manufacturers to understand and assess the driver assist features included in market-available vehicles.
"One interesting observation is that drivers are often more interested in knowing how to switch off these additional driving features than they are in understanding how to use them, or how they can benefit from them" says Ms Danielle Berry, a Network Operations Engineer at ARRB.
So, exactly what are these features and how can they assist you?
The following list summarises some of these features and outlines how you can benefit from them:
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC):
ACC works similarly to standard cruise control, however in addition to a set speed it can be conditioned to maintain a minimum following distance to a vehicle in front also. This allows your vehicle to adjust to a safe travel speed behind a vehicle ahead of you (e.g. even when they slow down), or when a vehicle merges in front of you. Similarly, if the vehicle ahead of you accelerates, the ACC will automatically bring your vehicle back up to speed accordingly. This means that the frequency of actively applying your brakes is reduced, and the cruise function can be kept engaged for longer periods in variable traffic conditions.
- Lane Keep Assist (LKA):
The LKA function acts mainly as a supporting safety feature to your driving in which, the vehicle will identify the lane markings and can perform small steering adjustments to help keep the vehicle traveling within the lane. This can allow the driver to relax their steering to a more supervisory role, still with their hands on the wheel and ready to take back control if needed, or in some vehicles the LKA may allow a brief “hands-free” period (typically less than 30 seconds).
By assisting in manoeuvring the vehicle and keeping it within the lane, driver fatigue levels can be reduced as the LKA will take on some of the mental load from the driving task.
- Traffic Jam Assist (TJA):
The TJA feature typically provides an “auto-pilot” style function that combines the ACC and LKA features at low speeds (e.g. when stuck in a traffic jam). The TJA acts to control the speed and movement of your vehicle within the lane so you don’t have to apply small start-stop adjustments to both your speed and steering. This means that slow-speed accidents due to losing concentration or growing fatigued in traffic jams are less likely to occur, as the TJA system will be supporting the safe control of the vehicle.
- Blind Spot Warning (BSW):
The BSW is an alert function that can present itself through audio and/or visual means. This is most often included as a small light or light-up display on a vehicle’s side-view mirrors, and may also be accompanied by an in-vehicle alert tone. The BSW provides safety assistance by lighting up when another vehicle moves into your vehicle’s blind spots, on the left or right hand sides, helping to keep you aware of any surrounding vehicles. In some vehicles, this feature may include an in-vehicle, HD display of the blind spot area on the passenger side to further enhance your awareness of the driving environment. If you then attempt to make a lateral movement (i.e. indicating to merge across lanes) while the BSW has detected an object in your blind spot, an audible warning tone will sound in your car. This tone will bring your attention to the dangerous situation, allowing you to respond and avoid a collision.
- Road Sign Information (RSI):
The RSI feature can be included in vehicles at two different levels. The first level is provided through data taken from mapped areas, where information on speed limit signs is stored and presented to the driver through the vehicle’s display, dependent on their detected driving location. The second level is more accurately a Road Sign Recognition function where the system is able to read, interpret and display to the driver the speed limit as the car encounters the information. This second level, unlike the first, works in situations where a temporary speed limit has been introduced (e.g. road works). However, in general both levels of the RSI function are useful in supporting you to remain within the correct speed limit, especially when driving in unfamiliar areas. In cases where you may have misread, not seen, or forgotten what speed limit was displayed by signage, the RSI system can provide this information in the vehicle, available to you at any moment.
- Collision Warnings and Active Braking:
In driving situations where a driver’s concentration or focus may have lapsed, or a vehicle ahead brakes harshly, collision warnings and active braking can work to avoid an accident. Collision mitigation assistance features, in the forms of warnings and/or automated braking, are being run-out in new vehicles to help support a driver’s response in these situations. The sensors on new vehicles are able to detect the movement of vehicles around you, and can provide both visual and audible warnings if they detect a potential collision and you have not initiated a response. In cases where you may have failed to notice such a situation, the vehicle may, in addition to the warnings, implement active braking on your behalf to help mitigate the potential accident, or reduce the collision impact. In some cases, these vehicles may also employ collision mitigation alerts to other vehicles approaching quickly from behind by, for example, flashing the brake lights to try and alert the other driver of their dangerous approach.
In understanding these features, it is important to note that while they are already giving us an insight into the future of autonomous vehicles, they are currently supporting aids for your driving and not a replacement for you in operating your vehicle. While diverse, these features and the many others that exist (e.g. parking assist, and autonomous lane change), all serve the same purpose of making driving easier and to make our roads safer. These features can only do this if we embrace them, take some time to learn about them, and drive with them switched on.
For further information of this study, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
ARRB has been working with project partners ConnectEast and La Trobe University, all of whom are grateful for the invaluable in-kind contribution of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Audi, Honda, Toyota/Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Volvo in providing loan vehicles for trialling on Eastlink.