Lane-Change-Warning Technology Could Protect Motorcyclists

A new system that warns of unintentional lane changes might also make drivers more likely to signal. By _ Art Friedman.

You have probably been there more than once: You are overtaking a car or one is passing you, and then inexplicably and without warning, it changes lanes into your lane. The driver doesn't signal or turn his head, but suddenly you are eating Escalade.

The new Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) developed by Iteris, Inc for cars, could help prevent this scenario by warning drowsy or distracted drivers of unintended lane changes. The system uses a a camera at the front of the vehicle that tracks lane markings to determine the lane's limits and then provides "virtual rumble strips," to emit a rumble-strip-like buzz on the side of the vehicle where the lane transgression is occurring—unless the vehicle is signaling a turn in that direction. A Daimler Chrysler video on the Iteris site demonstrates clearly how it works.

The system is already being offered as an option on Navistar big rigs and will be optional on some 2005 Infiniti models arriving this fall.

The technology is intended to address the huge number of accidents caused by unintentional lane changes. Iteris claims that over 1.5 million accidents and 23,000 fatalities per year㬳% of the total—result from such problems. We would have been pretty skeptical of those numbers if not for a discussion a staffer had recently with a California Highway Patrol officer who works one of those long, straight boring sections of Interstate 5 running through California's central valley. The CHP offer said that a significant majority of accidents he responds to are caused by drivers who drift off one side of the highway because they are sleepy or distracted, then over-correct when they realize it, swerve back across the road, and&$151unless they collide with another vehicle along the way—depart the road and wad themselves up on the opposite shoulder. It remains to be seen whether drivers alerted by the LDWS will overreact in a similar way.

From a motorcyclist's point of view, the attraction of the system is that drivers are more likely to signal their lane changes or get warned when they start to drift. The driver who intends to change lanes but doesn't properly examine his blind spot is more likely to warn you with a signal before he makes an Excursion into your lane. The danger of an over-correcting driver could still be a problem.

The following articles have further information on the Iteris LDWS:
CNN Money
Auto Week
Information Week
Yahoo! Finance
Detroit Free Press