Ford is the latest manufacturer to tackle the problem of drowsy driving by adding Lane Keeping Technology to the Ford Explorer in early 2012.
Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To keep drivers awake behind the wheel, Ford is using a set of three safety features in its Lane Keeping Technology: the driver alert, lane keeping alert, and the lane keeping aid.
The Driver Alert technology monitors the vehicle's driving pattern, and if it detects a pattern consistent with drowsy driving, it issues a chimed warning along with a message recommending a break. If the driver does not respond to the warning, it issues more urgent audio warnings. Taking periodic breaks is recommended to break up the monotony of long drives and keep drivers attentive.
And if that doesn't work, the Lane Keeping Alert recognizes when a vehicle unintentionally drifts too close to another lane and warns the driver. It uses small forward-facing cameras mounted on the windshield behind the rearview mirror to identify lane markings on both sides of the vehicle and predict where the vehicle should be.
If the system detects the vehicle drifting too close to the lane markings, it vibrates the steering wheel to grab the driver's attention. However, the system is only as good as the lane markings it monitors. Grayed-out lines on the instrument cluster indicate when the Lane Keeping Alert isn't working, such as when the vehicle is traveling below the 40-mph activation speed, the road is poorly marked, or adverse environmental conditions do not allow the camera to determine road markings.
Should the driver drift too close to the lane markings, the Lane Keeping Aid provides steering torque to nudge the vehicle back into its proper lane position. The technology calculates how much steering is required based on information gathered from cameras and sensors, such as the vehicle's position relative to lane marking, yaw angle, and curve radius. However, this semi-autonomous driving technology could be abused by drivers who may prefer to let the vehicle do the steering for them. If the system detects that the driver's hands are not on the wheel, it will issue warnings to discourage the practice.
But just because the technology is available doesn't mean you have the use it. The default setting for this optional technology is set to off, and the driver must enable it each time he wants to use it. In addition to setting the system sensitivity, the driver can choose to use the lane keeping alert, lane keeping aid, or both.