It's only a trickle so far, but new technology is emerging toward solving a problem that has long plagued motorists: “Blind spots” that occur when vehicles moving up alongside can't be detected by ordinary side view mirrors.
What driver hasn't been startled when pulling out to pass only to discover another vehicle is right next to him, even though he had checked his mirrors, hit his turn signal and thought he had clear sailing?
This scary scenario, which can easily result in an accident, now can be eliminated by a variety of new systems. But so far — typically — it's limited to only a few expensive models.
Among the vehicles you can now buy with these “seeing eyes” are the Volvo S80, Audi Q7 cross/utility vehicle, Cadillac DTS and STS, and Buick Lucerne.
Volvo Car's “blind spot information system” (BLIS), initially available as a $595 option only on the S80, has been expanded to cover the full lineup for '08. The system includes foldable and water repellent side mirrors.
BLIS, which Volvo boasts is a “world first,” uses digital camera technology fitted to both side mirrors that shoot multiple frames per second to monitor vehicles flanking the car.
By comparing frames, the system can identify when a vehicle is in the monitored zone, which is described as 10 ft. (3 m) to the side and 50 ft. (15 m) to the rear. When that happens, a warning light blinks near the side mirror alerting the driver to remain in his lane.
The system works both in daylight and dark and at all speeds higher than 6 mph (10 km/h) and also alerts the driver to vehicles traveling 12 mph (29 km/h) slower or 43 mph (70 km/h) faster than his vehicle. Volvo says the system doesn't react to fences, parked cars, lamp posts or other stationary objects.
Overall, Volvo Cars of North America LLC says U.S. take rates average 21% across the eight model lines offering the blind-spot detection option, meaning in total it has delivered 10,516 '08 vehicles with the system during a period from mid-May through October. That ranges from a high of 46% on the XC70 CUV to about 3% on the entry-level C30 hatchback just hitting the market.
Audi AG uses radar sensors in the rear bumper of the Q7 that not only monitor vehicles in the blind spot but also those approaching fast from up to 150 ft. (45 m) behind.
The Audi Q7's side-assist option is priced at E550 ($797) on lower-level models and is standard on the top-of-the-line 4.2L premium Quattro all-wheel-drive model.
If the side-assist system identifies a vehicle in the blind spot or coming on fast, the driver is alerted by a flashing light-emitting-diode signal in the exterior mirror.
Audi says the system was developed by analyzing “the expectations of different drivers” and examining real-world accidents. The Q7 also is equipped with a rearview camera to assist in parking.
The '08 Buick Lucerne and Cadillac STS and DTS system uses “alternating beams of radar to sweep adjacent lanes of traffic in a 150-degree arc,” and if a vehicle is detected it triggers an alert in the side-view mirrors. Supplied byRaytheon Systems Inc., it's available as a $350 option in the Lucerne and is standard on the DTS.
The threeCorp. cars also offer a lane-departure warning device that sends a flashing signal to the instrument pod when a driver crosses over his lane markings. It's a $295 option on the Lucerne.
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