Do driver aids really work? – Indiandrives finds out

We have often heard about all the new technologies boasting of making driving an easy task for all. Classic case is the example of the new VW Passat which has got a Parking Assist thing which helps in parallel parking the car in tight parking spaces. There are many more technological marvels coming up in future cars plus some of the Mercedes as also the Volvo cars boast of technology which some years back would have felt like an alien speak. More and more manufacturers are coming forth in their quest to mate the driveability of a car with its own iterations of driver aids. These technologies ensure that driving doesn’t become a chore and is more of a pleasure thing. Many would counter this statement by saying that all this cutting edge technology spoils the pure thrill of motoring. Moreover, the technologies take over the car and hence there is very precious little that the driver can do in the event of managing the car. Manufacturers counter this argument by saying that they infact provide switches which can deactivate most of the systems present in the car. We at Indiandrives set out to dissect the various systems available in a car and whether they actually help out the driver or not.

Head-up display :

Also referred to as HUD, this system projects the important data of the car on the windscreen, thus allowing the driver to not even take his eyes off the road for a second, to check the speed or kms covered. Also, navigation signs are displayed on the windscreen enabling the driver to follow the GPS and not miss out on turns. The best part is that this Head-up Display is only visible to the driver and thus co-passengers aren’t distracted by it. A small projector is used in front of the instrument panel and which in turn projects the image onto the windshield in front of the driver. Manufacturers put in a special coating so that the driver’s line of vision isn’t hampered overtly and the HUD can also be adjusted based on the height of the driver.

We believe that this technology, though on the expensive side is definitely worth it. At first, manufacturers projected it as a marketing gimmick, however, later on, it is being put more into the safety features list. Its best use is when one is crawling close to the speed limits.

Parking Assistance :

Parallel parking is a pain in the you know where. Even for seasoned drivers, its an issue if the vehicle one is trying to park is anywhere close to a sedan. However, Europe’s number one car maker VW have introduced the Parallel Parking thing in the new Passat. All one has to do is press the “Park Assist” button and use the indicator before the car passes through the designated parking space. The car is fitted with ultrasonic sensors which will check the edge of the road and accordingly when the slot is found, the driver receives a notification from the car. Once the reverse gear is engaged, the driver has to apply the brakes as necessary and also give throttle inputs. The entire steering wheel control is taken over by the car and all the maneuvering and turning is also done by the car. This system can also be deactivated once the driver makes the car to come to a standstill or the driver tries to modulate the steering wheel.

We think that this feature would be totally useless in India since most of the times, the Parking Assist works on the basis that the other cars are parked correctly. So, as of now, until the infrastructure improves, this is a big thumbs down.

Proximity Control :

This one keeps a set distance from the car ahead of you and hence if at all, the car in front comes to a halt suddenly and you don’t have enough time to react, then the Proximity Control takes over and does the braking on your behalf. Before auto braking, it also warns the driver via an audio beep. The proximity control system works between the speeds of zero to 200 kmph. The set distance is also maintained. Its an advanced version of the Adaptive Cruise Control function.

Since Proximity Control isn’t programmed to find out if the thing in front is a human being or vehicle, it doesn’t have a use in the Indian driving conditions. Moreover, with it in use, unnecessary alarms would be generated.

City Braking Assistance :

This feature has been provided so that collisions can be minimized. It includes the likes of a laser or sensor which is placed in the rear view mirror and continuously scans the road, approx one car-length ahead. It primes the brakes upon sensing any obstacle ahead of the road and if the driver doesn’t steer clear of the object or brakes, a hydraulic pump is activated, which in turn, applies the brakes automatically. If a collision is imminent and the driver supposedly takes no action, then about 50% of the braking power is provided by the system so that the impact of the collision is minimum or even in some cases, prevented. This happens only below speeds of 30 kmph. At speeds lower than half of the cited, a collision is definitely averted. Above speeds of 30 kmph, the system disengages itself and is redundant.

We say that this feature is very good and helps in preventing accidents, moreso during traffic conditions wherein one may lose attention for a second or so.

Lane Departure Warning :

Driver attention is what this thing checks on constantly. An integrated network of cameras pay a close heed to the lines on the road. If the driver doesn’t signal before lane changes, this system comes to life. The cameras pick on the lines of the road and accordingly inform the driver to get back to the lane he was driving in. These feedbacks are provided via a gentle nudge on the steering wheel or via audio beeps or even by a warning alert light. Since the concept of lanes in India is blatantly violated, it is more of redundant here.

Even in Europe where this system is more prominently sold even in hatchbacks, most of the times, it fails. It is deemed as unreliable even there. This one would just be for the gimmicks and have no practical usage in India.

Driver Alertness System :

The driver’s performance behind the wheel is analyzed by this system. If an erratic steering input is detected, then this system alerts the driver. This one also works to a large extent on the lane markings. The on-board computer sets up a prediction as to which path the vehicle should be traversing based on the steering inputs as also the markings. If there is a significant difference, then the system throws in a soft warning. If the driver still continues with his erratic driving manners, then a second warning is given by the system. If the driver even fails to acknowledge this warning, then the system would start displaying a coffee cup signal. This can only be removed once the vehicle is stopped and the driver’s door opened.

We say that this works fairly for us and though its based on the marking on roads, it still works just fine even with roads without markings. Now, how about giving this feature to the Indian truckies?

Blind Spot Assistance :

The area behind the car and also alongside is a relative place where the vision of the driver is limited enough. The Blind Spot Assistance works in such a way that a radar constantly monitors the spots. It warns the driver when changing lanes can be dangerous enough. On the rear bumper, short range sensors are placed to monitor the areas directly alongside and also behind the car. This enables the system to see if there is a vehicle just in the driver’s blind spot region. A red warning signal is illuminated in the glass exterior mirror or via a warning sounds as well.

This one works well, however, it can become a tad too irritating in crowded places. Moreover, in the Indian context, drivers rarely use the wing mirrors and hence this system wouldn’t be as effective here.

Intelligent Lights :

A dual Xenon Headlamps is what consists of Intelligent Lights. They are basically used for tackling different lighting situations pertaining to weather and the stuff. When visibility falls beyond a certain limit and the driver is forced to turn on the rear fog lamp, then the head lamp swivels outwards by a fair degree and also lowers the cone of the light. The nearside road is illuminated more clearly by this and the wide beam reduces the glare in the fog. These enhanced lights stay upto speeds of 110 kmph. The cornering light function is also attached to this Intelligent Light system. One or more fog lamps are automatically switched on when the driver operates the steering wheel or turns on the indicator. The range of visibility around a bend also increases significantly due to this.

We would welcome this feature in all the cars in India since this feature takes away the need to change to low beams so that the oncoming traffic isn’t dazzled.

Adaptive Airbags :

Most of the cars have a driver and passenger airbag system. However, adaptive airbags mean that there are airbags in other parts of the car as well. A comprehensive protection thing is achieved in this event like the side impact thing. Also, there are thorax and head protection airbags which protect the upper body from injury vis a vis by the airbag. The vehicle’s underbody also carries a braking bag which gets activated just before the collision. A friction coating to support the car against the road surface is created which provides for additional deceleration force, which reduces the force of impact.

Since accident is something which necessarily doesn’t happen head-on, there are many other areas where a person can get injured and hence adaptive airbags come to the fore. A total thumbs up proposition.

Preventive Safety :

This safety system comes to the fore when any unnatural skidding or braking is detected. Once the system is activated, the co-passenger as also the driver’s seat belts are primed by the seat belt pretensioners. The windows or even the sunroof, if open are automatically closed. A safest position is selected for the front seats. If the accident situation has been averted, then the seatbelts assume their original position. Moreover, the ABS, ESP and Brake Assist system are linked with this to minimize the chances of an accident.

This one is the best amongst the lot and certainly deserves a kudos. Its equal to getting an insurance policy for all the occupants of the car.

In the end, it turns out that most of the systems in a car are barely useful to us, however, as a part of the marketing gimmick and to eke out more money from the discerning buyer, manufacturers tend to introduce them in their cars. Most of these systems are present in Volvo cars and if one or two of them are removed, then the price of the cars would automatically come down to a great extent. Now, we don’t intend to promote Volvo cars in this section, however that’s the thought which just crossed the mind. Inclusion of these systems in some of the lower end cars would bump up the price, however, it would be a very brave effort on some manufacturer to even put these features as optional ones.

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