I have to admit that it was a little weird to see Jason Fenske, the guy who runs the Engineering Explained YouTube channel, start a video with something other than, “Hello everybody, and welcome!” Why? Because it wasn’t on his channel this time. He partnered with the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) to make a series of educational videos to accompany their new webpage explaining driver assist features.
Like Jason and NHTSA, I too don’t want you guys getting into car crashes, and think this educational effort is important. While we electronheads who are into high-tech cars are familiar with all of this (and maybe even think these features are lame compared to what comes standard on a Tesla), the average car buyer possibly won’t know what “lane keep assist” or “blind spot intervention” even is, and won’t want to spend big bucks buying those features.
If nothing else, you can send this link to family and friends so they can see why safety features are important.
Looking at the first video, it’s there to be a quick overview of the technologies available to assist drivers. No, it’s not a video about more advanced features, like Autopilot, but he does mention blind spot warnings, collision warnings, and automatic emergency braking systems. While not as exciting as vehicles that can do a lot more on their own, these basic systems can make a big difference in helping people avoid common mistakes while driving, and save many lives without taking control completely.
The problem? These systems do absolutely nothing if people buying cars don’t buy a car that has these features. NHTSA wants car buyers to know not only what the features actually do, but that they should ask for them or look for them by name when car shopping.
This educational effort dovetails with efforts the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has been working on. The newest vehicle ratings don’t only measure a vehicle’s occupant safety in the event of a crash, but also measure the vehicle’s ability to avoid crashes altogether. Manufacturers who include this equipment standard, and not just as an available option that people can pay more for, get extra points, and can even become a Top Safety Pick like the Tesla Model 3.
These assistance technologies aren’t yet mandated, but NHTSA knows that they save lives, so they want to encourage people to buy vehicles that come with them.
In subsequent videos, NHTSA and Jason explain these features in more detail.
Blind Spot Intervention
A key thing in this one is that Jason explains the need for it. Adjusting your mirrors correctly helps a lot, but still can leave some gaps. I can see how someone would think, “Hey, I always peek over my shoulder before I change lanes. I don’t need some robot bothering me.”
The problem is that many newer cars have reduced visibility, either for stylistic reasons or for structural reasons. Those big C pillars can get in the way and make things a pain. Fortunately, the various forms of blind spot assistance can warn and/or prevent you from a collision.
Rear Automatic Braking
After explaining the way this feature works (warning, followed by braking), he explains the need for the feature the same way he did the last one. Even perfect drivers, who never bump into anything, might have someone else in the household who needs this.
That’s a bit of a funny play, but everyone makes minor mistakes backing up. Personally, I once had an extended family member visiting from out of town, and she managed to park her car in just the perfect spot behind my garage where I wouldn’t see it (and this was back before backup cameras were required). I hit that little BMW at like 4 MPH, but still messed up both of our cars pretty good. Then, that family member from out of town was stuck living in my house for a week.
Yeah, rear backup warnings are a good thing.
Lane Keeping Assistance
This one follows the same pattern as the others. It explains that lane keep assist nudges your car back into its lane if you start drifting out of it. Then, he explains that we can all make mistakes, so this technology can still be helpful.
I know a few people who were pretty annoyed by this feature when it first came out. They were accustomed to changing lanes without signaling, and their cars were nudging them back. Fortunately, if they use signals like the rest of us, it won’t do that. I’d like to know how BMW implements this technology, though.
Automatic High Beams
While we’ve all forgotten to turn those high beams off, it’s a lot easier to complain about the other people who do it. It sucks, sometimes badly, when an oncoming car leaves them on and blinds the crap out of us. Even worse, newer LED headlights are super, extra bright, and blind us even worse than the old ones used to.
Having a feature that turns those off increases everyone’s safety, because one’s vision can’t recover for at least a minute after being blinded like that. Also, it sucks to not see as well as you normally can when someone is coming the other way, and that’s even more risk.
While the videos explain it pretty well, we aren’t all visual learners. Some of us need to read, and others respond to still images and graphics better than video. NHTSA has our friends and loved ones covered there, too.
The site not only helps the reader learn more about their Level 0 driver assist features, but also helps people see what’s in their own vehicle with search tools.
In the case of my car, they got it wrong (it came standard with collision warning and automatic emergency braking), but hopefully they got most cars right.
It’s a good resource all-in-all, though. For people who know nothing about cars and these driver assist features, the NHTSA page is a great resource to demystify the technology and help people figure out how to get it on their vehicles.
Featured image: screenshot from the “lane keep assistance” video by NHTSA (public domain).