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First came ABS (anti-lock braking system), followed a few years later by ESC (Electronic Stability Control). Both are now mandatory equipment on all new cars and light trucks.
But they were just the beginning. Now there is a whole range of electronic driver aids available to help avoid collisions, or at least mitigate their damage if they become inevitable.
Many of these systems are designed specifically to prevent rear-end collisions. Typically, they employ radar or laser technology and advanced computing to detect objects ahead and determine if a collision is likely, based on the distance between the two vehicles and how quickly that gap is being closed.
Then they warn the driver and, in some cases, go so far as taking preventive action.
Most of these technologies have been introduced in higher-priced luxury models, but their availability typically expands down-market to more mainstream vehicles.
Subaru is the latest brand to adopt such technologies, bundled into a suite called EyeSight. It is available in Subaru’s mid-size Legacy sedan and Outback CUV, which get a significant mid-cycle makeover for 2013.
The name EyeSight is apt, for the system is based primarily on a pair of forward-looking cameras, mounted high on the windshield, on either side of the interior rear-view mirror.
They work like human eyes, making use of parallax ? the very slight differences in what they see because of the distance between them ? to calculate the distances to objects ahead.
Subaru says this stereoscopic camera-based system provides superior depth of field and a wider field of view to radar-based systems.
Combined with advanced object-recognition software, it can recognize objects, rather than simply detecting that there is ?something? in the field of view, Subaru says.
While camera-based systems have advantages, they also have some limitations. A dirty windshield, heavy rain, snow or fog and bright, low sun all have the same effect on the cameras as on human eyes. And at night, the camera?s field of view is limited to the area covered by the vehicle?s headlights.
Subaru’s EyeSight system comprises seven separate functions:
Adaptive cruise control
Pre-collision brake assist
Pre-collision throttle management
Lane departure warning
Lane sway warning
Lead vehicle start alert
Most of those features have already been offered in some form in other vehicles ? but not all.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) senses the distance to the vehicle ahead and adjusts speed, using the cruise control system, to automatically maintain a pre-set distance behind the vehicle ahead.
Pre-collision braking is a next-step evolution that provides both visible and audible warnings to the driver if the closing distance and speed to the vehicle or object ahead suggest that a collision could result.
If the driver fails to react, the system takes over and applies the brakes. Hard!
I’ve tested the system, rolling at 30 kilometres an hour toward a fixed (styrofoam) barrier, and can attest that it works as advertised.
In some similar systems, if the driver does touch the brake, even late in the sequence, the automatic braking function is disabled. Not with this one.
Pre-collision brake assist ensures maximum braking effort, even if the driver applies the brake but doesn’t apply enough force to stop before impact, which is a common occurrence.
Pre-collision throttle management is a unique feature that prevents inadvertent hard acceleration if there is a vehicle or other object close in front. It doesn’t keep the car from moving but does limit response sufficiently to get the driver’s immediate attention.
Just what you need on those occasions when you thought your vehicle was in Reverse but was actually in Drive.
Lane departure warning is now a relatively common feature that alerts the driver if the vehicle unintentionally crosses a lane marker line.
But lane sway warning is a novel new feature that identifies weaving within a lane, as might occur if the driver is drowsy, and emits a warning in response.
Lead vehicle start alert is a similarly novel addition to the suite that sounds a warning if the vehicle ahead moves away, as from a stop light, and you fail to do so in a timely manner, as when you’re distracted by your cellphone. Essentially, it saves the driver behind the need to honk.
While some of these technologies may be more useful and effective than others, they all do serve a purpose.
But they don’t replace good driving habits. There is only so much they can do to diminish the consequences of overly aggressive driving, drowsy driving, inattention and just plain bad luck.