Symptoms of Driving a Car with a Lane Departure Warning Systems

When flying for Christmas, you just rented a 2013 luxury car, driving along and 1 or more of the following happens:

  1. The steering wheel vibrates
  2. An amber light appears on the left or right A-Pillar
  3. A chime on the dash sounds
  4. An illuminated  coffee cup symbol appears on your instruments
  5. When steering to one side the wheel gets very stiff
  6. Your seat begins to vibrate, but just on one side of it
  7. Your cars brakes apply just one front caliper on its own
  8. The bumps in the road get real rough and the car drives very firm and taught

You are very concerned about these problems your rental is having. You quickly call the rental company and they start to laugh, tell you to calm down.  After asking to speak to the manager, the clerk continues: “all new luxury cars do that!”  Next, the rental clerk asks a very good question: “Were you in traffic changing lanes, was there is a car in your blind spot?” I recalled that yes there was a hidden car in my blind spot and he honked to alert me. “Then the Departure Warning System was operating normally and helped you to avoid a collision!”

How does it work?

While carmakers use slightly different systems to create their lane departure warning system, the concept is the same. If you change lanes and there is a car beside you, the computer warns you that there is a car in your blind spot. How? By using a sound or a flashing a dash light, vibrating the steering wheel or seat, or in some cars, stiffening the steering effort or suspension, and in one car, the system will apply just one front brake to pull steer you back to safety.

Many systems use 2 cameras mounted on each side of the rear view mirror; while others use a radar unit to monitor the lane markers in the road and a motion sensor on each side of the car to look in the blind spot. Thousand times a minute, the system monitors where your car is in the lane and in relation to traffic around you and it will warn you or take control of your car if you drift out of your lane or near a car in your blind spot.

Are They Effective?

In a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), blind spot detectors and backup cameras showed mixed results in improving safety. The data on these technologies is just starting to come in, and the IIHS says more study is required, but in general the preliminary results are favorable. In a few years all cars sold will have a lane departure warning system and insurance companies will give discounts to every car’s equipped with them.

“This will become an industry standard,” said Don Grimm, senior researcher for General Motors, a leader in this field. “It’ll create some real cost advantages and could proliferate down to midsize and economy vehicles.”

Driving the new luxury car over the holidays, I gradually became to appreciate these subtle hints that the car produces. So now when in heavy traffic, I began to trust this information, and after calmly waiting, a hidden car did appear in the mirror from my blind spot and the lane detection system was right. The technology we thought was futuristic just 10 years ago is available in just about every car we can now purchase today. The future is here!

Answers to questions above:  1. BMW  2. Volvo 3. GM  4. Subaru  5. Ford 6. Buick  7. Infinity  8. Lexus

Don Wollum Senior ASE Master Technician, owner of Tech Check Mobile Auto Inspections: