Autonomous vehicle systems are ready, and manufacturers have started to roll out the basic elements of the systems we will all soon use. Honda’s 2016 Pilot Elite is an excellent example of how smart automakers are rolling out the technology piecemeal so that we drivers become accustomed to the systems and can begin to learn their many benefits.
Most everyday drivers have no interest in a goofball Google car that will drive them around from start to finish. However, forward collision mitigation with auto-braking, has real-lfie benefits even to drivers paying close attention to the road. (Read an account of that here)
Collision prevention is just one of the new driver-assist systems that drivers will learn to love after they give them a try. Another is adaptive cruise control. Using cameras and/or radar sensing, it allows a driver to set a speed, say 70 MPH. Unlike older cruise control, ACC will slow down if the vehicle in front of you does. This happens constantly in light to medium traffic, and drivers don’t always want to go around the vehicle when that happens. Imagine a situation where a truck ahead slows to 67 due to a hill. Knowing the hill is short, a driver would not want to pass. ACC allows the car to slow while following at a safe distance. After the end of the hill, the truck will go back to the prior speed, and your vehicle will speed back up too without interruption. Of course, you can use ACC just like older cruise control. When you tap the brakes, it is cancelled. If you press the accelerator, the vehicle goes faster. On a recent highway test of about 8 hours, this system took a bit of getting used to. However, once we gave it a fair shot, we found it easy to use and also that it saves gas. In our testing, we exceeded the Honda Pilot’s EPA’s 27 MPG highway rating by 2 MPG.
Another related system that works well with ACC is lane-keeping assist (LKAS) and lane departure mitigation. These systems are easy to explain. When you are on the highway with your hands on the wheel, the system keeps the car in the center of the lane. You can feel a slight nudge in the wheel as the system keeps your car directly in the middle of the lane. Should you put on a “blinkah”, as we say in New England, the system stops temporarily knowing you will want to change lanes. It also does not resist if you simply turn the wheel. In our testing, we found that the Honda Pilot’s system worked very well in conjunction with the ACC. The usual fatigue seems to be lessened. The best news? In our experience, there is no tendency to nod off or to zone out. The help the vehicle provides simply takes away from your stress. Try this system and you will be surprised to find out how often you drift from the center of a lane, or even out of a lane. There seems to be a beneficial teaching effect as well.
The current systems require your attention and participation in driving. If you let go of the wheel in the Honda it will do its job and keep the car going down the highway. However, it will intervene and tell you “Steering Required” in a flashing orange message on the information display (gauge cluster). Used properly, a system like this would make a long drive to Florida from New England more relaxing and less stressful. Our New England “Snow Birds” would be safer on the road to themselves and to others as well.
Take it from a long-time sports car owner who loves to drive a stick shift. There is a place for these driver assist systems, and if you give them a try, you will find there are many benefits.