– By Marc Sibbald –
First question I hear you ask is – what is LKA? It’s Lane Keeping Assistance. Second question – why would you refer to my fleet drivers as virgins? Because this new technology is only being rolled out in popular lower grade fleet models now and many drivers won’t have experienced it.
After driving several vehicles with LKA, I’ve realised that training drivers about this new safety is as important as teaching them about ABS because it will take control of the wheel which can be confronting if you’re not expecting it.
Do you remember driver training in the 90’s? It always featured an emergency braking experience to show drivers what ABS would do so they didn’t panic when it kicked in under heavy braking. When the brake pedal pulsated violently for the first time most drivers would lift their foot instead of pressing harder to stop and steer the vehicle. So without any training in the vehicle, or in the classroom, the safety featured turned into a hazard.
The first vehicle I drove with LKA was the Hyundai i30 N. When the new model i30 was launched in 2017 it came with the option of SmartSense which provides a range of active and passive safety technologies. Because I was reviewing the car I was playing with all the features. The LKA kicked in at 64 km/h and in Active mode it was very good at keeping me within the lanes.
My main test was in Sydney along the M2 out to Baulkham Hills where I (safely) let the Hyundai LKAS steer the car at 100 km/h from the Lane Cove Tunnel to Windsor Rd (almost 35 km). I got an insight into the future of semi-autonomous driving which was quiet exhilarating.
The next car I drove was the all new Holden Commodore RS. I was using this car as a daily drive at first and this is when I noticed how confronting LKA can be when you’re not paying attention. While driving though western Sydney on a single lane road, the steering wheel tugged in my hands which gave me a fright. I was paying attention and driving within the lanes but had drifted over to the right when a large B-Double was approaching from the opposite direction. There was no risk of collision but the subtle nudge from the LKA certainly got my attention.
The Commodore system wasn’t as good as keeping in the lanes without driver feedback as the i30 N. It tended to react late and over compensate so you were verging from one side to the other. This is ok because it was still doing the job it was designed to do.
During July I attended the launch of the all new Audi A8 which is the first product vehicle in the world that has been developed for Level 3 autonomous driving (where the car can do all the work with a driver present to take control) and got to sample its LKA.
The drive program left the city in Sydney and went via the national park and the coast road to Wollongong. On this first stage the handling and comfort of the A8 were put to the test. The cabin was quiet and the big car handled like one of its a smaller siblings.
Once leaving Wollongong we had a short blast on the freeway where I put the LKA to the test. When combined with adaptive cruise control and pre-sense its not a far leap to autonomous driving and the A8 performed significantly better than the other two cars I had tested.
The reason could be the laser scanner, employed by Audi for the first time in the A8, which fans over an area of about 80 metres in length, with a wide aperture of 145 degrees. Using a laser scanner it can detect the exact contours of objects, even in conditions of darkness. The special capabilities of the laser scanner and the central environmental model in the central driver assistance controller benefit the navigation system, in addition to the Audi AI systems, since the sensor data merger locates the car to within its exact lane. This allows the driver assistance systems to react to objects with even greater precision and earlier than in other cars without the same technology.
In 2018 drivers are getting out of cars that are three or five years old and getting into semi-autonomous vehicles with AEB, LKA, and adaptive cruise control; plus Apple CarPlay and other distractions. If companies and dealers aren’t performing extensive driver inductions the features designed to make roads safer could become a hazard.