by Jim Kerr
Camera’s view of the road ahead as it tracks lane markings. Click image to enlarge
Every year, members of the Automobile Journalists of Canada (AJAC) gather at Shannonville Raceway east of Belleville, Ontario to spend four days attending presentations and testing new cars and technologies. From this testing, the best of each category is selected and the Canadian Truck and Car of the year, Best design and Best New Technology will be chosen.
As a member of the technology panel, I was presented with the latest technologies. Over the next few weeks, I will share the best of “what’s new” with you. Today, I would like to tell you about Lane Departure Warning. This safety system is found on the Infiniti FX45 and M45 models and I have featured it before, but James Schwyn, R & D Director of Valeo North America, the company producing the system, provided much more information that I think you will find interesting. Lane departure warning is a safety feature. A little bigger than a pack of cigarettes, the LDW (lane departure warning) module is mounted on the windshield by the rear view mirror. A small camera, not much bigger than your thumb, monitors the road ahead, capturing the images of road lane lines and markers. It may also be able to monitor the edge of the pavement if there is a distinct difference between it and the ditch. Inside the module, a complex program analyses the camera images and determines if the vehicle is going to cross a line. If it is determined the vehicle will move out of its lane, then an audible warning is provided to the driver, warning them to pay attention.
Why does Infiniti think this system is important? According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Association, motor vehicle traffic crashes were a leading cause of death in the U.S. as of 2002. Transport Canada wants to make Canada’s roads the safest in the world. Their initial objectives are a 30% reduction in fatalities and serious injury, but they also want to reduce impaired driving by 40%. Most of us would think of impaired driving as related to drugs or alcohol, but impaired driving is also caused by distractions, both in and outside the vehicle, such as the use of cell phones. The environment contributes to only 15 to 20 % of vehicle collisions, and vehicle problems contribute less than 5%. This leaves the majority of collision root causes as human-related.
Lane and road departures are a factor in 43.3% of vehicle fatalities. This figure has been increasing steadily over the past decade and it is easy to figure out why. People are busier. We operate on less sleep, but drowsiness and driving don’t mix. We tend to eat on the run. “Dashboard dining” is common. Reading notes or interacting with passengers can be just as distracting. New car features such as navigation systems or audio systems can take a driver’s attention away from the road. I am sure you have seen other cars drifting over the lane lines or weaving back and forth as the driver tries to set controls or reach for something inside the car.
Driving a vehicle is a serious task. Because we do it so often, we begin to take it for granted, but that is when we can become an impaired driver. Even the best driver has difficulty devoting 100% of their attention 100% of the time to driving, and that is where the Infiniti Lane Departure Warning system comes to our aid.
If the vehicle is nearing a lane marking on the road, the module warns the driver with a few gentle beeps to pay attention. A similar system has found use in big trucks in Europe but instead of beeps, it generates a noise similar to highway rumble strips on the radio speakers to warn a driver. The system only activates above 72 kph, so it’s designed to work on freeway or highway driving, and it doesn’t alert if the turn signals are on. This would be a great feature in itself, reminding drivers to use those turn signals! The system can be switched off for that ignition cycle.
I found the system worked well on multi-lane and two lane highways. It even worked when much of the road was covered by snow, distinguishing between the lane markings and snow cover.
According to a report to Congress in 1999 by the NHTSA, rumble strips along the highway edge reduce drive-off-the road- crashes by 30 to 50%. Lane departure warning systems are much more economical than cutting highway rumble strips and warn the driver about both sides of the lane. This is the first in camera recognition systems to enter the market place and is in limited use, but look for it to expand in the future.