Driving Assists You Shouldn’t Trust With Your Life, for Now

Driving assists 1 photo
Photo: Toyota
It seems that people get quite easily distracted by their mobile phones or infotainment systems while driving these days. Having full control over 2 tons of metal while pedestrians and other vehicles are around isn’t much of a concern with some drivers now, reason why the automakers had to invent new electronics to keep everyone safe... because of other electronics.
A bit hilarious if you ask us and you’ll probably laugh too when someone invents the Toilet Paper Assist (TPA) which reminds the user via an app that there’s no toilet paper left because he/she is too busy checkin' in or seeing what friends are eating at the moment.

Jokes aside, that’s not necessarily the reason automakers are adding so much aiding tech on their vehicles. They simply want to make cars more attractive to buyers and even turn people into getting their driver’s license so they can use those high-tech stuff that promises to keep them safe even if they’re bad drivers.

Back in the day, driving was only for those capable of multitasking but today it seems to be more of a fashion and the automotive industry snow ball gets bigger and bigger because of that.

But that’s maybe another story to tell. What you should be concerned about now is how much you can trust all those systems. After we tried most of them, our say is that you should quit doing anything else other than driving behind the wheel and pay close attention to your surroundings.

All those electronic safety nannies might seem perfect because they are powered by fast computers capable of more processing power than a human brain, but as you probably know already, computers tend to glitch sometimes. Especially in this case, where their calculus relies on data received from external sensors that can get damaged and misinterpret things around.

To boot, this technology came one the market quite recently, which means automakers could still be in the trial and error period. As some say, you only live once, but we really don’t see why that should be abruptly ended by a computer unable to assess and “understand” an unforeseen situation down the road ahead.

Without anymore hassling, we’ll get you through some of the automatic driving assists that could fail and get you into a crash.

Adaptive Cruise Control

It comes in many forms, like autonomous cruise control, intelligent cruise control, radar cruise control or active cruise control, but it only does one thing - it keeps your car at a fixed speed behind another one in front that is cruising as well, while maintaining a safe distance.

On some models, the system can actually bring you to a full stop if the car in front does the same and you only have to deal with steering. It seems pretty bulletproof at first but it can go wrong.

Heavy rain, fog or snow will hamper the system's abilities and if you think that can’t really happen here’s a possible scenario: You’re cruising on the highway at nigh in a slightly foggy zone with the system ON and following a car ahead.

You’re actually having an argument with someone and are not paying attention to the road ahead, believing the cruise control is doing its job. But you suddenly enter a thick fog area at speed. The car in front slows down but your system is incapacitated and the glitch will make it react slow to the situation. Boom, you rear end the car and screw up the day!

Most of these systems also come with a Collision Avoidance System which at first will warn the driver about an imminent impact after which it will automatically apply the brakes in case he/she doesn’t react in time. But given our circumstances above, an impact will still be unavoidable.

And we’re not even talking about debris or dirt blocking the system’s sensors...

Lane Keeping Assist

This system uses a camera to “see” road lanes and keep your car in between them. Combined with the facility above could in theory turn your car into a fully autonomous one, at least on the highway.

But again, being to confident about it’s efficiency could send you in the nearest ditch or into one of the cars around you. This kind of assist relies solely on one thing - those white or yellow lines on the asphalt.

Again, letting the system do the work while you are busy tinkering with the phone or other such distraction will pay off in a bad way if you enter a road section where the lines are barely visible or not visible at all.

Road workers doing their job on your route can’t be aware that you’re driving on auto pilot, your car doesn’t have the possibility to get notified about the lane deviation up ahead and again you can get in a serious crash.

This system could indeed be effective in a perfect environment with a flawless infrastructure where lanes are marked correctly and maybe get doubled by other sensors embedded in the road so the car “sees” them even if covered in snow.

Blind Spot Monitoring

This thing uses a sensor or camera under each external rearview mirror which continuously scans that zone you can’t really see from the driver’s seat. It should be pretty straightforward: if a big thing is there it switches ON the LED on the respective mirror to warn you there’s a vehicle there.

Still, there are traffic situations the sensors get fooled or, depending on their quality, fail to respond in time. A car coming fast from behind you and then switching lanes at the last moment will most certainly not trigger the alarm fast enough if you’re about to do the same maneuver.

Moreover, some systems won’t detect motorcycles or bicycles nearby, two kinds of vehicles that usually sneak up on you in city traffic. We’re not saying these devices are useless, but you should pay attention to your surroundings even if that light in the mirror is OFF. You never know...

There’s also an Active Blind Spot Monitoring system out there which also steers the car back into its lane if there’s a vehicle in the zone. It might sound more pompous, but it’s the same system mated with the one handling the lane keeping job, so it’s prone to the same weak glitches as well.

Pedestrian Detection

OK, this is not about you as a passenger, but those who are outside your car. Still, crashing into them because of your fault is as important and you can end up in jail regretting your whole life that text message you were writing and ultimately distracted you enough not to see what’s happening ahead.

The pedestrian detection system is usually correlated with the Collision Avoidance System. Cameras and/or sensors placed on the car are constantly monitoring the road ahead as well as the sidewalk. If you end up near a pedestrian crossing and fail to notice the people trying or actually walking on it, the car should automatically apply the brakes and put you to a complete stop.

But, as with the other systems, this is not fault proof. What if a small child suddenly comes out from behind of a large car? Or even a fully grown adult deciding to quickly cross from behind of a large truck?

Yep, you will hit him/her despite the system’s efforts to slow the vehicle down. Not to mention the system is very sensitive to speed and will usually end up smashing the pedestrian if going over 50 km/h (31 mph). Tests done by Toyota and Lexus showed that despite their tech advancements, the system is still prone to error.

We took a look here only at systems that could hurt you or others if fully trusted and things go wrong, but there are also others that could damage your expensive car if you’re not careful.

The rearview camera or the birds-eye-view system which shows the car from up above along with its surroundings, which are a bit distorted to be honestly, might trick the driver it’s safe to perform a certain maneuver without checking with the real world first and can ding the car or even hit someone.

It’s even funny when most of these systems display a large “Check surroundings before proceeding” message which basically renders them almost useless.

Who knows, maybe these systems will indeed get fault proof when all the cars will be able to communicate in between and with the infrastructure. But for now, it’s safe not to believe your car is your guardian angel.
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