ADAS technology saves lives

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): What are they and what do I need to know?

•    ADAS technology saves lives
•    How does ADAS work?
•    Incorrect calibration could cost lives

What is ADAS?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, due to the relatively young average age of the UK’s vehicles, it’s very likely that your car has some sort of advanced driver assistance system, generally referred to as ADAS.

In its simplest form this could be driver aids like windscreen wipers and headlights that come on automatically when it rains or as the light fades, both of which are now very familiar features to many motorists.

By contrast, at the other end of the spectrum there are ‘awareness’ functions like lane departure warning and blind spot detection, as well as ‘intervention’ features such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and parking assistance. The vehicle manufacturers have come up with a number of creative names for their combinations of these more sophisticated systems, with ProPilot Assist (Nissan), Co-Pilot360 (Ford) and Pilot Assist (Volvo), as examples.

Although the ultimate design purpose of many of these ADAS developments is to enable vehicle manufacturers to produce fully autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, it is unlikely that these will be seen on the UK’s roads anytime soon. In the meantime, however, they do provide motorists with a wide range of benefits, some with comfort and convenience in mind, but the majority are safety related.

So far, so good!

While, from a driver and passenger perspective, it seems that so far the ADAS story is all good, there are some areas of concern and these generally relate to the vehicle’s upkeep. To fully appreciate the implications, we need to understand a little about how these systems work.

Without going into the complexities, the majority of the safety-related ADAS functions rely on built-in cameras, radars, or a combination of both, to relay information –  such as the distance from other vehicles, lane markings and road signs – to a series of sensors. This data, as well as external satellite GPS coordinates, is processed by the electronic control units within the vehicle, to make the warnings or interventions that correspond to the individual ADAS function: adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency breaking, automotive night vision etc.

In order for the ADAS functions to operate accurately, which is clearly fundamental to the safety of these systems, the cameras and radars must be correctly calibrated, just as a rifle will only hit the desired target if its sights are correctly aligned.

When the car is new, this isn’t a concern, as its systems will be checked as part of its pre-delivery inspection and unlike tyres, wipers and brakes etc., there’s also no need to worry as the car gets older, as the ADAS functions won’t ‘wear out’. Problems can arise however, following events such as an accident, when the windscreen is replaced or if the vehicle’s steering geometry is altered; for example, if its tracking has been adjusted after a visit to the tyre centre.

During any of these events, the position of the cameras and radars can become out of alignment, whether that’s due to the impact of the accident, because the camera is mounted on the inside of the replaced windscreen, or the fact that their position in relation to the direction and angle they point has been changed following some sort of mechanical adjustment during a service or repair.

At this point, although the responsibility to check and, if necessary, recalibrate the cameras and radars, lies with the bodyshop that has undertaken the repair, the glass company that has replaced the windscreen or the workshop that has made the adjustment, there is no warning light on the dashboard or sound from the vehicle to inform the driver if the ADAS is out of alignment.

To go back to the rifle analogy, just as it will only become evident that the sight has been knocked out of alignment when it misses the target, drivers will only be aware of incorrect calibration when the systems don’t work accurately, which greatly increases the prospect of an accident!

So, what should you do?

Although after undertaking the work, all insurance-approved bodyshops and glass replacement specialists know they must automatically check, and if necessary recalibrate the cameras and radars related to the vehicle’s ADAS functions, those working in mechanical service and repair workshops are often less aware of this obligation.

Using a reputable workshop is therefore imperative, but before having any work carried out, ask the proprietor whether the calibration is checked as standard practice. If it is not, then simply take your vehicle, and your custom, elsewhere because ultimately, your safety and the wellbeing of other road users depends on your vehicle’s ADAS functions being correctly calibrated.
 

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