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Bike, auto, jaywalker, beep beep—why ADAS will soon make your car behave like a plane

In Europe and China, the Advanced Driver Assistance System is already an essential feature. It's a matter of time before it becomes mandatory in India.

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Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are becoming a ‘thing’, especially in cars with a high degree of imported parts. But what is ADAS, how does it work, and should it matter to you as a driver?

Over the past week, I have been driving the new Honda City e:HEV hybrid that I wrote about earlier. It is a fascinating vehicle. And with stronger hybrid vehicles around the corner, particularly the Maruti/Toyota competitor to the Creta, living with the City Hybrid gives you an idea of how much more fuel-efficient the vehicle really is compared to a regular petrol Honda City. But the last week has also given me a chance to spend some time with a standard mass-market vehicle equipped with ADAS functionality, such as collision warnings and mitigation systems as well as lane and road departure warning systems.

If I had to distil my experience of driving a car with ADAS for ten days, it would be summed up in one word: irritating. To be fair, Honda has a button to disable the ADAS functionality. And given Indian roads and traffic conditions, it might not be a bad idea. However, I would keep the systems working on urban high-speed roads such as the Eastern Expressway in Mumbai or the Delhi-Gurugram Highway. Let me explain why.

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ADAS helps with distractions

As part of my learning, I was taught to be aware of everything while driving. Watch the tires of heavy vehicles; predict where a motorcyclist is going. You have to create a bubble around your car and constantly process all your visual cues using not just what you see in front of you, but also your mirrors. But I learnt to drive just as mobile phones started coming, and calls cost a lot of money back then, as did messaging. And you definitely did not have smartphones.

It is positively disheartening and frightening to observe road users in India using their smartphones while driving, through a connected system. Not just using apps like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but also actively typing a message. You see a car well below the speed limit on a road with little to no traffic and you would almost always find the person behind the wheels typing away on their smartphone, oblivious to your flashing of lights or honking.

You see it with folks driving small hatchbacks and luxury cars. I once noticed a driver on a video call. Challans or other actions by the traffic police barely act as a deterrent. The fact is that we are easily distracted nowadays, more so if you have a connected smartphone to the infotainment application. I’m also guilty of scrolling through my music or podcasts while driving.

This is where ADAS comes in. Let’s imagine you don’t notice that you’re headed straight into the car in front of you, or slowly edging outside your lane. Even if you don’t, your Honda City Hybrid will. The collision mitigation system will not only flash a big orange warning on your instrument cluster, you will also hear a loud ‘beep, beep’ sound. In case you still don’t react immediately, the car will apply the brakes softly before alerting you again. As for the lane change warning, the steering wheel vibrates and tries to push you back into your lane.

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Cars aren’t perfect

A word of warning. These assistance systems, while handy, are not perfect. The same is true for not just Honda, but even a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While such systems, which include radar-assisted cruise control, for example, are classified as ‘Level 2’ autonomous functionality (some consider this ‘Level 2.5’), it is not autonomous driving.

Could you enable these features on the straight Taj Expressway and take your hands off the wheel? You can, and the car will move at the speed you have set for cruise control or at the speed of the vehicle in front of you, and even make slight adjustments as the road takes gentle turns. But the steering wheel has a pressure sensor that will notice that your hands aren’t on the wheel and again alert you loudly. There are major legal liability issues over here. As more and more cars have ADAS, you cannot blame the car for not warning you that a jaywalker was crossing the road where they shouldn’t have been. It is still your responsibility to be alert.

At the same time, in India, in heavy traffic conditions, the systems can be quite irritating. While ADAS features on most cars do not activate at speeds below 20 kilometres an hour, when you’re moving at say 30-35 kph and a motorcycle cuts in front of you, and you are paying full attention, as you should be, it is very irritating to hear the alarms go off. It’s the same with the lane change warning. The car doesn’t need to tell you how poor lane discipline is in India. That said, you can easily deactivate the warning by using your indicators, so maybe this is just me cribbing.

On a final note, ADAS is today considered an ‘add-on’ feature offered on top-spec cars. However, in Europe and China, these are rapidly becoming essential features. In fact, if carmakers want higher ratings in the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro-NCAP) tests, they need to have ADAS features. It is only a matter of time before ADAS becomes mandatory in some countries, ergo, it might as well become mandatory in India. And when it does, the ability to switch these features off may not be an option.

So, ADAS is coming to a car near you very soon. Get ready to have alarms go off every few minutes.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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