At the moment, all the major car manufacturers are really pushing their electronic driving aids. Self parking, crash avoidance and blind spot assistance are just a few of the features that have been fitted to the current model lineup.
I have test driven a Ford Fiesta with the automated parking, and with the ‘collision mitigation system, or whatever Ford calls their version of it. It is quite an effort to not grab the wheel while the car is parking itself, it is instinctive to be in control whilst parking. It is even harder to test the crash avoidance system, to do so meant driving at an inflatable ‘car’ at 20kph and not touching the brake pedal when getting close.
To anyone who learnt to drive for themselves, it seems counter intuitive to throw their hands up and let the vehicle think for them. It comes down to making your life your vehicle’s responsibility, even more so than usual.
To me, the bigger problem will be how much trust people put in their vehicles. Crash mitigation systems, which apply the brakes at low speed, will allow people to pay more attention to their phones when stuck in traffic. The responsibility of controlling a motor vehicle’s actions are incredibly important, and the more that these aids are refined, the more complacent drivers will be.
The same could be said for the blind spot radar systems, having a light come on to inform the driver of a vehicle in their blind spot. All well and good, except for a few technical issues. Which are pretty big issues.
I contacted Mazda and asked for some info on the blind spot radar system. They sent me some info on the system and it’s own blind spots. It is quite a read, with many different reasons cited for why the blind spot indicator would, or would not, activate. Snow, ice, mud, roadside barriers and other materials can activate the indicator, giving a false positive reading. Under certain conditions, a false negative reading can be ontained. The following is from the email I received from Mazda:
‘The BSM system is not a substitute for the driver in confirming safety. The driver is responsible for assuring the safety of lane changes and other maneuvers. Do not rely completely on the BSM system and always confirm the safety around the vehicle visually before changing lanes.
• Because the BSM system has various restrictions in the operation, the BSM indicator light might not illuminate or it may be delayed even if there is a vehicle traveling in the adjacent lane.
• If there is mud, water, or snow adhering to the areas near the BSM control module, obstruction of the radar could result in the system not appropriately detecting a target vehicle, or complete non-detection of the target vehicle. Always pay attention to the direction of vehicle travel and the area around the vehicle.
• Do not block the area around the BSM control module on the rear bumper with foreign material (such as bumper stickers) so as not to affect the BSM system functions.
• Perform radar aiming for the BSM control module if the rear bumper has received an impact.
• The BSM system may not operate normally under the following conditions:
― Dirt, ice or snow is adhering to the rear bumper surface.
― The vehicle is driven in heavy rain or snowfall, or under conditions where water on the road is sprayed by the vehicle.
― The vehicle is towing a trailer.
― The vehicle accelerates from a standing-start with a target vehicle alongside.
― A target vehicle moves laterally from a lane two lanes over to the adjacent lane.
― The difference in vehicle speed between the vehicle and a target vehicle is higher with the target vehicle passing through the detection area in a very short period.
― On a steep incline, or if there is a difference in height between lanes.
• The BSM system may detect guardrails or parked vehicles on a road shoulder and activate the warning light/beep.
• The BSM control module may not detect all types of vehicles. In particular, detection of the following types of vehicles may not occur:
― A vehicle driving at a low speed
― Small vehicles such as motorcycles
― Vehicles with body shapes that may not reflect radar such as unloaded trailers
― Vehicles with low vehicle height
― The difference in vehicle speed between the vehicle and a target vehicle is extremely high.
― A target vehicle accelerates suddenly from the rear of the vehicle and changes to the adjacent lane.
― A target vehicle which is traveling in the vehicle’s blind spot at nearly the same speed for long periods
• The BSM indicator light may be difficult to view under the following conditions:
― Sunlight at sunrise and sunset is reflected in and around the BSM indicator light
― A lighting device with strong illumination is used in the vehicle
• On a road with a narrower lane width, the system could detect vehicles on a lane next to the adjacent lane and cause the warning light/beep to operate. Conversely, on a road with a wider lane width, the system may not detect vehicles on the adjacent lane and may not operate the warning light/beep.’
Which is fair enough, Mazda gives the warning that the vehicle’s BSM is not the be all and end all. I agree wholeheartedly that it is the driver’s responsibility to check properly before changing lanes, but I know it’s also human nature to work smarter, not harder.
So how much control can the driver have, and how much faith can they put in their cars’ driving aids? When will the driver’s aid become the driver, and all people riding in the car relegated to the position of passenger?
More importantly, what will happen during the transition?
Thanks to Mazda customer support for the info on the BSM system.