Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) can give drivers early warnings when a maneuver would put them in danger, and also warn about unexpected behavior from other cars and pedestrians. These warnings can help drivers respond to danger before it’s too late, keeping them, their passengers, and those they share the roads with safe.

How Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) Work

Advanced driver assistance systems use cameras and sensors installed on the vehicle to enhance driver awareness and vehicle responsiveness. Manufacturers typically fit cameras and sensors on a car’s back, sides, and front, giving the vehicle a 360-degree view of the road, pedestrians, street signs, vehicles, and other obstacles.

Supporting software uses information from the cameras to trigger a response. The system then either alerts the driver so they can make any necessary corrective maneuvers or directly takes over control of the car to prevent an accident. Let’s look at some examples of ADAS.

Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control systems use speed and distance sensors to maintain a safe distance between vehicles. If your car has adaptive cruise control and the vehicle in front of you slows down, the system reduces your car’s speed to match theirs. If the vehicle ahead of you increases its speed or exits your lane, the system returns your car to your preferred speed.

To use adaptive cruise control, you generally need to set your preferred distance from the car ahead of you and a desired cruising speed. You can usually find these settings on the steering wheel.

Cross-Traffic Alert

Rear cross-traffic alert systems warn you about cars or objects entering your path as you reverse. This system uses sensors mounted on the vehicle’s rear to identify vehicles, people, bikes, or anything else crossing your path from left to right and vice versa. This system only works when moving out of a straight driveway or parking spot.

It’s important to note that cross-traffic alert may not work in angle parking scenarios. For example, if you are parallel parked, it can ensure that you don’t hit the car behind you, but you might not see cars coming on the street due to the camera’s limited perspective. Always double-check for cars and objects behind you to avoid accidents.

Picture of a rear camera coupled with an ADAS.

Forward Collision Warning

Forward collision warning systems help you avoid hitting slow-moving or stationary cars in front of you. These system uses lasers, cameras, and radar to monitor the road ahead. If the system detects danger, it alerts the driver using audio cues, seat vibrations, lights, or a combination of all three.

Primarily, car manufacturers partner a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. This way, the car applies automatic emergency brakes if the driver fails to act in time.

Some forward collision warning systems pre-charge brakes to make stopping easier. These systems may also tighten seat belts to prevent or minimize injuries. Forward collision warning systems become active when speeds exceed 10 miles per hour.

According to a 2017-2019 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), forward collision warning systems reduced rear-end crashes for large trucks by 44%.

Lane Departure Warning

Lane departure warning systems help keep cars in the appropriate lane, helping avoid lane-switch accidents. These systems use cameras installed on the rearview mirrors to recognize lane markers. When a driver moves too close to the lane markings, the system alerts them like a forward collision system.

It’s important to note that these systems don’t work when the driver’s turn signal is on. Signaling that you want to change lanes informs the system that you are aware of your actions. In some cars, the system activates when the driver turns on the engine; in others, the driver needs to press a button to activate the system.

A graphic depiction of advanced driver assistance systems in action.

Lane Keep Assist

Lane keep assist systems operate similarly to lane departure warning systems. They use painted lane markings to prevent vehicles from drifting out of their lane and crashing into other motorists. However, faded or covered markers may lessen the efficacy of these systems. Additionally, if snow, leaves, or debris are on the road, the system cannot identify the lane markings accurately.

While the lane departure system gives you alerts, lane keep assist systems gently steer the wheel to return to your lane. You override this feature when you turn your steering wheel.

Reverse Brake Assist

Reverse brake assist systems help prevent vehicles from hitting objects as they reverse. These systems use sensors to identify objects on the vehicle’s path and notify the driver through an audible or visual alarm.

Additionally, these systems apply brakes automatically for a predetermined braking period to stop the vehicle before a collision occurs.

Snowy surfaces, downward inclines, and wet surfaces can reduce the efficacy of reverse brake assist systems due to low friction.

Types of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Vehicle manufacturers use active and passive ADAS for their cars. Although both technologies increase safety, they operate differently.

Active ADAS

With active ADAS, the system takes control of the vehicle to avoid accidents and protect the driver and other cars on the road. For instance, reverse brake assist systems apply brakes automatically to avoid hitting objects behind your car, without needing intervention from the driver. Lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking systems can also take control of a vehicle without driver assistance.

Passive ADAS

With passive ADAS, the vehicle identifies dangers and informs the driver through various cues. However, unlike active ADAS, drivers must act on those cues to change the behavior or trajectory of their vehicle. Common cues include flashing lights, beeps or other audio indicators, and vibrations.

depiction of advanced driver assistance systems in action from the inside of a car.

Do Advanced Driver Safety Systems (ADAS) Keep Drivers Safe?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, 35,092 people lost their lives in road car crashes in 2015. The vast majority of those accidents – 94% – occurred due to human error.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems help prevent those types of error-induced accidents. A study conducted by Consumer Reports in 2019 surveyed 72,000 respondents, asking various questions about their experience with ADAS. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of respondents felt that one of the ADAS systems in their vehicle prevented them from crashing.

This study compounds on research from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, indicating that ADAS can help teen drivers stay safe. That said (or written), ADAS are not a silver bullet for accident prevention. Drivers may disregard ADAS warnings, and inclement weather or bad road conditions can make ADAS less effective. Advancements in technology and increased awareness of ADAS can hopefully contribute to fewer accidents, injuries, and fatalities on the road in the coming years.

For more on vehicle tricks, tips, and tech, stay tuned!

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