I just tried to drive a brand new car into a brick wall.

It didn’t work.

This was a 2017 Subaru Outback with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes Pre-Collision Braking. We don’t have autonomous vehicles on Maine roads yet, but this system is getting pretty close.

I wanted to try Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, and Pre-Collision Braking systems, so I borrowed a vehicle from my local Subaru dealership, Pape. These three functions are part of the EyeSight Technology, which uses cameras to monitor the road and traffic surrounding the vehicle.

I didn’t dare experiment with Rear Cross Traffic Alert or Lane Change Assist around other cars, because I didn’t want to freak out nearby drivers. Those two systems warn the driver when radar senses vehicles approaching in the rear when backing up, or passing in the blind spot when changing lanes.       

Not stepping on the brake pedal takes some getting used to, but the Adaptive Cruise Control worked well through rush hour traffic on I-295 through Portland. This system uses cameras to sense the distance to vehicles in front of the car.

I set my desired speed and distance to follow the car ahead of me, and as cars exited and entered the highway, the Outback accelerated, decelerated, and braked on its own to maintain the distance and speed.    

Off the highway, where it was less congested, I tried to drift towards the center line and the Lane Keep Assist system steered the Outback back into my lane. This system uses the cameras to watch the lane markers, and if the blinker isn’t on, it turns the steering gear.

Some Maine towns are going to have to step up their work painting the travel lanes on their roads for this system to work, but on the Maine Turnpike or I-295, it’s a good fit.  Lane Keep Assist might be a three-season system here, since it won’t work if the lines are obscured with salt brine or snow.

In a parking lot away from other cars, I chose the wall of a deserted shopping center to try Pre-Collision Braking.  This system uses the cameras to detect objects in the path of travel, monitors the speed of approach, and pumps brake fluid to stop the car. If I had my foot on the accelerator, the Pre-Collision Throttle Control would first cut back the throttle, but I was too much of a wimp to try it.

My first few attempts at trusting the system failed, because every fiber of my being was conditioned to step on the brake pedal. I felt like a back seat driver even though I was the driver.

I finally coasted up to the wall from a few feet away, and the car magically, abruptly, firmly stopped without any action by me. If it had braked sooner and gradually, or left more space between the bumper and the wall, I would have been more comfortable.  Pre-Collision Braking leaves control in the hands of the driver until the last critical moment.    

I love this technology, but it’s weird to drive a vehicle that has so much control over its operation. Control freaks may not want to drive with this system.

But since it’s a common trait to blame traffic problems on everyone else, while insisting that our own driving is beyond reproach, we can all agree that EyeSight is a great system … for everyone else, at least.

Ruth Morrison is an Automotive Technology Instructor and Department Chair at Southern Maine Community College. She holds certification as an ASE Master Technician and Advanced Level Specialist and was a former Ford Senior Master Technician. 


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