Trucks at Work

Reality check for vehicle safety systems

Technology is a wonderful thing, especially where motor vehicle safety is concerned. In the big rig world, systems such as electronic stability control (ESC), forward collision warning, and lane departure warning, for starters, can help prevent or at least mitigate the severity of crashes.

Yet technology – like its human creators – isn’t perfect. Even the systems noted above have their limitations and so it’s vitally important for drivers of all vehicles equipped with them – commercial trucks and cars alike – to keep that in mind.

AAA Automotive Engineering provides a stark reminder of those salient facts via the results of recent tests conducted in partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s automotive research center.

The two groups tested blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning systems in cars, and while “four-wheelers” are very different from their much larger tractor-trailer relations, the salient points apply: namely, that the tests uncovered scenarios where the systems failed to perform as expected.

Those “failures” included delayed warnings by blind-spot monitoring technology and the failure of lane-departure warning systems to properly track lane position under certain road conditions.

Here are some other details truck drivers and motorists alike should keep in mind:

  • Blind-spot monitoring systems had difficulty detecting fast-moving vehicles – such as when merging onto a busy highway. Alerts were often provided too late for evasive action.
  • Motorcycles were detected by blind-spot monitoring systems 26% later than passenger vehicles, thus delaying reaction times.
  • Road conditions were often a problem for lane-departure warning systems. Worn pavement markers, construction zones and intersections can cause the lane-departure warning system to lose track of lane location.
  • The sheer number of alerts and warnings can confuse drivers. Auditory, visual or haptic responses – or a combination – could be similar to other advanced driver assistance features that delivered the same warnings.
  • Pros and cons aside, motorists will encounter advanced driver assistance technology as automakers cascade these devices across vehicle lines. Being aware of these systems and understanding how they operate is a necessary step before driving the vehicle.

For the record, both of those systems are being widely integrated into the bulk of new vehicles being sold these days – and motorists want those systems, too, as evidence by a recent Harris Poll that found 56% percent of U.S. vehicle owners said they would be willing to switch brands to get the technology they want, with 61% preferring safety technology over “infotainment” systems.

Indeed, think about these stats for a minute:

  • Blind-spot monitoring systems are available on 69% of new vehicles as an optional feature, with 5% offering them as standard equipment.
  • Lane-departure warning systems are available on 54% of new vehicles as an optional feature, with 2% offering it as standard equipment.

“With nearly three-quarters of 2014 vehicles offering blind-spot detection and 50% offering lane-departure warning as options, consumers need to be educated on how to get the best benefit from these systems,” noted John Nielsen (seen below), AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering, in a statement.

“AAA’s tests found that these systems are a great asset to drivers, but there is a learning curve,” he stressed.

“Some blind-spot monitoring systems we tested had a short detection range, which meant that a vehicle was already in the blind spot before the alert came on,” added Megan McKernan, manager of automotive engineering at the Automobile Club of Southern California. “The lane-departure warning system on several vehicles experienced false-positive and miss-detections, which resulted in an inconsistent driver warning. This can be annoying and could result in the driver disabling the system due to the false alerts.”

As a result, AAA’s Nielsen emphasizes that drivers need to not only familiarize themselves with how such systems work but remember not to rely too heavily upon them. “It’s important to take the time to review these systems so that you’re prepared for alerts and warnings, while also understanding the limits of the technology,” he pointed out.

Good advice for motorists and truckers alike to contemplate.

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