Article and photos by Greg Wilson

Once found exclusively in high-end luxury cars, active safety technologies like blind spot monitoring sensors, lane departure warning systems, active radar cruise control, and automatic braking are now finding their way into mainstream vehicles such as the 2014 Mazda6 – the first mid-sized family sedan to offer six of these safety nannies in one car: Radar Cruise Control, Forward Obstruction Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Smart City Brake Support, and High Beam Control System – a safety bundle which Mazda calls “i-Activesense”.

Auto Tech: Mazda i Activesense Active Safety Technology Systems mazda auto articles auto tech Auto Tech: Mazda i Activesense Active Safety Technology Systems mazda auto articles auto tech
Mazda i-Activesense Active Safety Technology Systems. Click image to enlarge

To demonstrate how these safety systems actually work while driving, Mazda Canada invited a group of auto scribes to the British Columbia Driving Centre in Pitt Meadows, BC just outside of Vancouver, to test drive a group of 2014 Mazda6s. We began the day with a Powerpoint presentation of each safety feature and an overview of the track layout, which was basically a large asphalt parking lot with a course laid out in orange cones.

The first driving test was the Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) system, which monitors blind spots on both sides of the car and behind the car using radar sensors. With the left turn signal activated, I accelerated up to 35 km/h (the speed at which it starts working) while another car trailed my car in the left-side blind spot. A flashing amber light warned me of that unseen car while a high-pitched chirping sound informed me that I was about to move into the path of the car on my left. BSM is not supposed to replace the traditional over-the-shoulder check, but for those times when vehicles in the next lane are hidden behind thick window pillars or can’t be seen because of poor visibility, Mazda’s BSM system can save your bacon. Note that while it will warn the driver of a potential collision, it won’t automatically steer the car away from the collision like some more sophisticated systems.

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Mazda i-Activesense Active Safety Technology Systems. Click image to enlarge

Mazda’s Blind Spot Monitoring system also includes Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA), which uses the same sensors to detect and warn of vehicles crossing behind the Mazda6 when reversing. For this test, I reversed the Mazda6 between two cars as if I was backing out of a parking space while another car drove across my intended path. Again, a loud beeping sound alerted me to the oncoming car and I braked to avoid a collision. If you think about it, this is a very common occurrence in everyday driving: most mall parking lots and underground parkades require you to back out into an active laneway between rows of parked cars where other drivers often hurtle by oblivious to the potential dangers. Personally, I like to back into parking spots and exit driving forwards, but that’s not always possible or expedient. Note that if you get tired of the beeping and flashing warnings, a button on the dash allows you to turn BSM off.

Next, I headed out onto the highway to test the Mazda6’s Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS). Using a camera in the front of the vehicle, the Mazda6 detects when the car is drifting over the line and flashes a warning in the instrument cluster and makes a warning sound that sounds like the car is running over a rumble strip. Apparently, you can also program it to ‘beep’ instead of ‘rumble’. Once again, this system is designed to warn the driver but it won’t steer the car back into its lane. Mazda Safety Consultant, Andrew Bardwell, pointed out that if the exterior sensors or camera are covered by snow or ice, the systems will stop functioning rather than give a false warning. So if your car has these safety systems, you’ll have to be sure to keep your nose clean!

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Mazda i-Activesense Active Safety Technology Systems. Click image to enlarge

Next, I tested Mazda’s Radar Cruise Control (MRCC), a safety system (that is also pretty convenient) that calculates the relative speed and distance to the car ahead, and maintains a safe following distance by reducing or increasing throttle input. Using a button on the steering wheel, you can adjust the desired following distance to the car in front and you can feel the car slowing down and speeding up to maintain that prescribed following distance. A picto-graph of the car and following distance appears in the right instrument display. Applying the brakes cancels the system until you reset it.




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).