2020 Toyota Camry. Photo by Randy Stern
Did you know that our vehicles are now capable of saving our lives?
Through decades of crash testing, automobiles have improved in terms of keeping us safe inside. In turn, vehicles have been designed to minimize collisions from the way they are engineered and manufactured.
As LGBTQ motorists, we want to feel safe and secure in our vehicles. If we are not doing so, it should be something we demand.
This has brought us to the development of new electronic systems that will help us prevent collisions and keep us safer on the road. These new technologies fall under the category of driver assistance.
For these technologies to work, you have to start with a way for a vehicle to be able to protect itself and its occupants, in a way that augments human interaction. While these technologies are a part of the ultimate goal of autonomous, self-driving vehicles, we are not at a stage where we can trust it to do everything for us.
Driver assistance starts with some form of sensor inside your vehicle to “see” and “read” the road ahead, around, and behind it. This could mean the use of camera, radar, or lidar tech to do exactly that. The information these devices pick up is read through a computer controlling each feature to play their part in keeping safe.
For example, the blind spot monitor reads the entire side of the vehicle behind the side mirrors into each traffic line on both sides of the vehicle. If you make a lane change on the highway and there is a vehicle on either side of you, the blind spot monitor will light up to tell you to not make that lane change just yet. It helps a lot when the vehicle that the blind spot monitor has picked up does not show up on your side mirror – a great addition to your vehicle’s ability to get you out of trouble.
Blind spot monitors are visible on the outer edge of your side-view mirrors. Not all manufacturers mount their warning lights on the mirror itself. Nissan, Audi, Subaru, Infiniti are among manufacturers that either mount their blind spot warning light on the inner edge of the mirror or on the inside corner of the door, near the A-pillar.
Not everyone uses the same blind spot monitor symbol, either. The symbol for General Motors vehicles is clearly not the same as the triangle symbol on Fiat Chrysler products, nor does it resemble the standard symbol found on Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia products.
Either way, your blind spots will be detected and communicated to you.
It is not just blind spots that have been covered under driver assistance technology. Frontal collisions are very common among traffic accidents every year. With cameras, radar, and lidar pointed frontward, a series of recent tech advances have become commonplace in modern automobiles.
For starters, a front collision warning is the first notification to the driver when they are approaching the vehicle in front of them either too quickly or are coming too close to it. However, having a warning is really not enough to avoid a collision. Most modern automobiles come with automatic emergency braking. The warning will set off a trigger to engage the brakes before impact.
As this technology continues to develop, further detection warnings have been added. Vehicles can use the same front sensors to read pedestrians, animals, and bicycles. When they are detected by these sensors, a warning is enabled to the driver to stop before impact.
A feature that has resulted from these frontal detection technologies is adaptive cruise control. It used to be that you can set your speed on the highway for a long drive, and forget it. However, regular cruise control does not slow a vehicle down when it comes to a vehicle in front of it. By using the sensor technologies, you can also set a distance between you and a vehicle in front of you. If your vehicle comes close to the one in front, the cruise control slows down your vehicle to keep the set distance between the both of you. It can also accelerate again, once again.
Driver assistance technologies also include lane keeping warnings and assistance. If you are traveling on the highway, sometimes you find your vehicle drifting towards a lane marker. The next thing you know it, you’ve just entered into another lane, cutting off someone traveling in it.
In that instance, lane departure warning is the first alarm to go off in your vehicle. It will give you both visual and/or audible signals that you have entered into the next lane of traffic. Lane markers are read by sensors along the side of your vehicle feeding information back to you ensuring you stay in your lane. If so equipped, lane keep assist uses your steering system to pull you back into your lane.
Another common incident involves backing out of your parking spot and something is in your way. Whether it is an errant shopping cart, or someone walking behind your vehicle…or, a vehicle coming through the row.
Aside from your rear-view camera wihtin the infotainment screen or on your rearview mirror, rear cross-traffic alert is another set of sensors adding an additional layer of protection when backing out from your parking spot. A warning on your rear camera screen pops up to tell you where the vehicle, pedestrian, or obstacle appears.
Additional technology is starting to appear on a few vehicles, where a cross-traffic alert will trigger the brakes in case you get too close to whom or what is in your way.
All of these features are designed to keep you safe whenever you are behind the wheel of your automobile. However, the best piece of driver assistance is you – the driver. If any of these systems have been turned off, you may have to go back to handling the road yourself. If you’re an expert driver – you’re good.
But, sometimes, we need that extra layer of safety and security to keep us on the road. This is something LGBTQ automotive consumers should consider the next time we’re shopping for a new vehicle.