When ‘Assistance’ Stops ‘Assisting’

Almost every new car comes standard with various driver “assistance” technology such as Brake Assist, Lane Keep Assist and Park Assist. New forms of “assistance” propagate with each new model year and sometimes sooner.

It raises questions about people’s competence to drive without such “assistance.”

Especially when such “assistance” becomes unavailable.

Which happens for the same basic reason that you lose the “assistance” of your eyesight when a gnat flies into your eyes. The driver “assistance” tech in all new cars relies on  cameras, mounted around the perimeter of the car. What happens when they can no longer see? Because the camera cannot see through fog? Or because the lens is covered by a layer of ice? And the software/programming is stymied by unforeseen conditions?

You no longer have “assistance.”

This has happened to me numerous times, since I drive numerous new cars and often in fog or sleet and snow – as most of us have to do because those conditions obtain out in the real world.

As opposed to the showroom.

Dust and mud do the trick, too. Tall berms by the side of the road (especially in curves) also sometimes do the trick, fooling the camera into “seeing” an obstacle ahead that isn’t really there – or rather, isn’t in the travel path of the vehicle. But not having a mind, the “assistance” tech can’t tell the difference and so “assists”  . . . by slamming on the brakes in the middle of the curve.

Or in the middle of the road, for no apparent reason at all.

Such things have happened to me a number of times, in a variety of different cars – so it is not a make/model specific problem. And it happened again, just yesterday, in the ’21 Subaru Crosstrek I am test driving at the moment.

It was very foggy out. I could still see – but the Subaru’s EyeSight system couldn’t. For a variety of reasons, a non-biological eye cannot (yet) see as well as a biological eye in good working order. And some of the non-biological eyes affixed to the exteriors of new cars cannot wipe away a crust of ice or splash of mud, causing them to not see very well, if it all.

And then the “assistance” no longer does.

As happened in the Subaru I was driving – because of the heavy fog. A warning chime sounded, an icon illuminated – to let me know I was no longer being “assisted.”

For those drivers accustomed to such “assistance,” this is arguably dangerous – analogous to an airplane that doesn’t expect the pilot to be able to fly it competently at all times and then sometimes stops flying it for him.

This is interesting given the “assistance” is marketed as a “safety” advance.

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