Mercedes’ Lane Assist; BMW’s Lateral avoidance System; Ford’s Lane Keeping System. Nearly every manufacturer has a version of this, a warning device to let you know if your car has strayed from your lane. Some have a lighted warning, others have an audible bell, still others have a steering wheel that vibrates like some kind of built in rumble strip. If your turn signal is not activated and your car starts to wander, you will be told to snap out of it.
Last summer, Quebec launched a campaign to try to combat it drowsy driving, and study after study, including one released by the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta a few weeks ago has pegged those most at risk. Need a scary number? Up to 20% of Canadians have reported falling asleep at the wheel, according the Canada Safety Council.
There are no new revelations about the worst offenders here. Those who drive long distances, those who sleep the least or snore or suffer from sleep apnea, shift workers, commercial drivers, and those taking sedatives.
Every study has a figurative asterisk beside their measured injury and fatality rates: you can’t ask a dead person if they nodded off just before they died. Results are often pegged in the absence of mechanical failure and circumstances noted in the minutes leading up the crash, if possible. You’ve all driven behind a sleepy driver, you might even have thought they were drunk. According to the CDC, 18 hours without sleep will produce a level of impairment in most people equivalent to a blood alcohol content of .05%. Get to 24 hours, and it’s closer to .10.
The solution that is the most obvious, and the easiest, is of course the one people circumvent. If you’re too tired to drive, rolling down the window, cranking up the stereo and downing yet more coffee won’t make you less tired. Sleep will make you less tired. Even a 20 minute nap will help; though even then, don’t be prepared to push through more than a few additional hours after a nap and some caffeine.
If you’re a passenger in a car being driven by someone you suspect should be asleep – and soon might be – offer to drive. Stopping every couple of hours is a good rule of thumb for any long drive, and putting safety first must be a shared priority. If you know your kid is tired or shouldn’t be driving, don’t insist on them hitting a curfew that might cause a crash.
There is no doubt that car manufacturers bringing lane departure warning technology to more and more cars is a good thing. While a cynic among us might also consider it Text Assist, anything a car can do to warn the driver of possible errors will save lives. That same cynic might note that while the cars are getting better and safer, the drivers aren’t exactly following suit.
Like electronic stability control (mandatory on cars manufactured on or after Canada September 2011), you can bet lane departure will be standard in the near future on most cars. Most brands have it in their premium lines, but like many life-saving safety features, it is rapidly moving down the chain.
I’d like to think that technologies like these will teach, if not train, people. If you’re constantly lighting up your lane assist warning like a giant clown’s nose on a game of Operation, maybe that’s your cue to get some sleep, keep your eyes on the road, or take a refresher driving course. If you’re activating your electronic stability control, it’s not a high five that you’ve discovered the boundary of your car’s performance; it’s a warning that you’ve been careless enough to find it. These systems are correcting driver error – engaging them means you’ve made a mistake.
Some lane departure warnings are only active over 80km/hr. Others are overridden by a turn signal, which means if someone has left their signal on (another sign of inattentiveness) the system won’t work. Expect more fine tuning, but expect more and more aids to save drivers from themselves.
The more bells and whistles a car has, well, the more bells and whistles going off. Doesn’t matter if it’s chimes, vibrations, pretty lights or flashing warnings; your car is talking to you like never before. For those insisting they don’t need all the nannying, it would be tempting to let Darwin have at it – unless that theory is playing out in the car next to you.
The safer we make ourselves, the safer we make each other.