Driver Assistance Systems: A “Non-India” Feature?

by July 20, 2018 0 comments

Driver Assistance Systems A “Non-India” FeatureCars that are manufactured abroad with driver assistance systems have no reason to trim those features in India

Over the past 12 months, I have experienced the future of driving and well, it is not the future anymore, it is the present. This is the automation on cars, cars where the car does the driving, thanks to an array of cameras and radar assistance. Even in India, I’ve driven cars with assistance systems from Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.

So, therefore, it was a surprise for me recently to drive the India specification of a car I’d driven abroad which had the assistance features but the Indian model did not. And there are many cars like that from manufacturers where the Indian models will not come with these features. This is not an issue of price. There are reasons that these features are disabled, including the fact that more expensive models don’t have them. These features don’t always gel well in Indian traffic conditions.

One of the first cars with a automated safety feature that I drove was the Volvo S60. While this model is going to be changed soon,  based on Volvo’s new architecture it had features like lane assist and automatic braking. Both were toned down from the features in modern Volvos — the lane-assist was nothing more than a steering shaker and the autobrake only activated in an emergency situation. But the first time I drove it, I wasn’t prepared for both features and they both surprised me. The autobrake came on and I wasn’t expecting it, the first time when a motorcycle cut me off, as is the norm, the car braked very hard by itself. And when you’re expecting that, it really does shock you.

Since then, I’ve driven several other cars with automated driving features. I’ve also been in a fully autonomous car in the United States. And I’ve become used to them to be very honest. Driving down a highway in Europe or in the United States, I have often just driven controlling the car with my left thumb. You can activate the cruise control, something that has been around forever and then set-up the remaining features. First is lane assist and then the distance control. Altogether, with everything working the car pretty much drives itself. And on the highway and with little traffic all you need to do is keep your left foot primed at all times. If you want to change lanes, you give the turn indicator and the latest cars will switch lanes themselves. It waits if there is a car coming from behind even if it is your visual blind spot. Technically this doesn’t allow you to cut anyone off, it is actually safer than most drivers.

The car does warn you if your touch on the steering gets too soft, and there is a loud aural warning if you take your hands off the wheel for an extended period of time before disengaging. This is more for reasons of liability rather than anything else. Which is why I feel many manufacturers are still hesitating on installing this on the cars.

The fact is that traffic on highways in most other countries are far more regulated than in India. In cities, nothing on earth prepares you for the chaos of Noida. Traffic is crazy across but still has some semblance of order. The only major city in India where traffic has some idea of regulation in my opinion is Chandigarh.

So would these safety features make any sense in India at all? Yes they do, I think they make great sense in newer highways with good road marking. Modern cars also have varying degrees of automatic braking allowing you to tune it down. Unlike the West though, road markings and road signs are pretty poor in India. How many of you know that double white solid lines on the middle of a road mean “No Overtaking under any circumstances?” Exactly. And all over south Delhi small locality roads have double white lines instead of dashed lines and that is ridiculous with turn-offs every few hundred metres. But the cars do allow you to override the computer. Indeed, most cities  should disable the systems until local traffic police cracks down on that worst of Indian habits, wrong-side driving. But most modern Indian highways, while requiring an enhanced sense of concentration, can be driven with such features assisting you.

And that is my key point, these are driver assistance systems and there is no reason why if a car offers them abroad, they should not be offered in India. And they should also come down the value chain soon enough. Volvo’s XC40 at Rs 40 lakh is currently the cheapest car offering such features but by 2020 I’m sure these features will be available in cars costing half as much or less. And eventually, I do believe traffic inside core metropolitan areas will become more orderly and one would be able to use such features inside cities. At the end of the day these robotic cars, and they are robotic cars for all intents and purposes, would make the lives of authorities easier as well. There is a fear that maybe in the future the authorities will try and control your cars remotely, but that is another story for another time.

Writer: Kushan Mitra

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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