DON’T GET DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION

Logo for Gary's Column - 8-22-13TECHNOLOGY AND YOU – GARY M. KAYE  GARY’S TECH TIP: When I watch automobile commercials these days I confess I get a little safety envy….the wish that I could have some of those really great new safety features such as front end collision avoidance, blind spot detection, lane departure warnings, and others. But I know full well I can’t afford to get a new car just to get a safer ride.

While many of these systems are only available in new cars, increasingly some are available in the aftermarket. Among them are rear view backup cameras, sometimes linked to navigation screens. There’s even an aftermarket night vision system.

Now comes the SafeDrive Systems RD-140. It claims to be the first aftermarket product offering radar enabled frontal collision avoidance, as well as camera triggered lane departure alerts.

The $1,700 system needs to be professionally installed by the company. I took a deep breath as the front bumper and headlights came off my car.  And the spaghetti like wiring under the dash.  But when it was all done I had a pretty amazing system. Well actually two systems.

The collision avoidance system uses a radar unit mounted in your front grill. It analyzes what’s going on around you at 20 times per second.  Because it’s radar it works equally well night and day, and even in fog or snow. When you’re just tooling along with no one near you, the small radar display, which is mounted where it won’t obstruct your view, will show a single green light.  If you’re behind someone at a safe distance, you’ll see a line of green LED’s.  Get a little closer and the LED’s turn amber.  Get too close and they turn red, followed by a “bong” sound..  And if a collision is deemed imminent, there’s a loud beeping alert.

SafeDrive Systems CEO Rona Aharonson, says her company’s radar based collision avoidance system provides enough advanced warning time to head off the vast majority of collisions, three to five seconds.  And she says most collisions can be averted even with only 1 1/2 seconds of warning.  The system is set so you’re warned if you’re less radar than three seconds behind the car in front of you.  On a recent trip covering everything from local streets to open Interstates to stop and go highway traffic, the system performed flawlessly, sometimes surprising me when a driver unexpectedly cut in front in New York City traffic. The only difference between this and the systems that come as original equipment is that SafeDrive does not engage your brakes.  You still have to do that.

The lane departure alert uses a camera mounted behind the rear view mirror.  In my car it is absolutely invisible to the driver.  The camera is adjusted during the installation process to read the left and right lane markers.  It doesn’t start operating until you hit 37mph, and then if you drift over the lines you’ll hear a rumbling sound just like the rumble strip on the highway.  LED’s on the left or right of the display will illuminate amber depending on which way you’ve erred.  If you’re using your turn signal when you change lanes, it won’t be triggered.  I found it very effective in preventing me from drifting while doing such simple things as changing radio stations or adjusting the car’s thermostat.

Not surprisingly, the biggest group of SafeDrive System’s customers are those over fifty,  SafeDrive’s Aharonson says,  “People who are in that age group have probably been in at least one accident in their lifetimes and they don’t want to go through that again. And people in their late fifties start noticing that their motor skills are slowing down, but they want to maintain their independence and to go on driving,  and to have these types of features available to them can only be beneficial.”  But even she cautions that in the final analysis while her technology can help drivers avoid accidents, the ultimate responsibility is still the driver’s.  Oh, and one final note for those who live in deer infested burbs.  The radar doesn’t detect animals.  At least not yet.  So Bambi be warned.

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