Buyers' Guide: Full control still in our hands
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Autonomous vehicles, once a thing of the future, are fast becoming more of a reality as manufacturers introduce the types of features that are required to make a vehicle truly driverless and designed to assist the driver.
Sophisticated active safety assist technologies are now not just an addition for expensive cars, they're rapidly becoming standard on entry level models -- following the same path as life-saving technology such as seatbelts, airbags and anti-locking brake systems.
Advances in semi-autonomous technologies are commonplace in new releases and some of the most frequent questions from AA members are about what they do.
Lane departure assist
There are two main systems available when it comes to lane departure assist.
A passive lane departure warning system will alert the driver to crossing a painted line on the road. The passive system usually does this by way of an audible or visual warning, or by a vibration in the steering wheel.
An active system uses information from the vehicle's surroundings to take control of steering and maintain its position within the lane. Often this uses a combination of video, laser and infrared sensors that are typically mounted behind the windshield, in the rear view mirror and around the perimeter of the vehicle to assess nearby traffic and any obstacles.
Lane Departure Assist will often take control only if the system notices there is no input from the driver and the vehicle appears to be leaving the road. If the driver does not respond to visual or audio alerts, it will guide the vehicle back to where it should be. Some models take this one step further by using the information gained from other autonomous systems to apply the brakes as a final caution, which brings us to ...
Collision avoidance systems can help to prevent a crash -- or at least reduce the severity of an accident -- by automatically applying the brakes before a crash takes place.
Advanced emergency brake assist is often adopted by vehicles with adaptive cruise control (more about that later) but, with increased speed, its effectiveness is reduced. They therefore tend to be most effective at speeds below 50km/h.
If this sounds too fancy or beyond reach, just look at Subaru, which offers drivers an eyesight assist package with some of its latest variants. This is a great example of a good autonomous braking system well within reach of everyday consumers.
Adaptive cruise control
Adaptive cruise control uses the same technology in autonomous braking systems and maintains a safe distance between cars.
Employing the vehicle's acceleration and brakes, this system is a good aid in places where there is a congested build-up of traffic, such as the motorway, or at times when there are more cars on the road. The distance between vehicles can be altered by the driver, and adaptive cruise control will use sensors to slow the vehicle, helping to reduce the risk of crashes and increase the ability for autonomous braking to take place.
As time goes on, we will continue to see advances in technology making cars safer. Some manufacturers have already developed and tested more fully autonomous vehicles, while others have used motor shows to showcase futuristic prototypes which look like something out of a sci-fi movie.
However, it's important to not be complacent. Assist features are there to step in should they need to and are positive developments in automotive technology and vehicle safety, but we are still behind the wheel, still in control of our vehicles, and responsible for safety on the roads.