A View from the Passenger’s Seat…at 180 kmph

Guest post


I have just spent the last 3 days & 2000+ km criss-crossing Germany in a car with technology I have never seen before … and would never want to travel without again. This was a standard, off the show room model with just one (standard) extra. It had Radar.

Let me explain.

The car had forward looking radar that was connected to the cruise control. The driver would set a desired speed and then also a ‘follow zone’ from any car in front. For the driver this is just selecting 1-5 as a follow option. The ‘follow zone’ was not a set distance but some formula about speed. eg at a slow speed you would follow closer, but at a higher speed there would be a greater safe space. When it rained the follow distance would increase to account for the conditions

So you jump on a German Autobahn with Cruise set at 180 kmph & the radar is looking forward 150 meters. When the car detects another vehicle in front of it, the car will automatically slow down to reach the designated follow distance. When that vehicle moves out of the way the car will automatically accelerate to reach your set cruise speed.

If you come into a sharp corner the car sees the road via Sat-Nav & will slow you down to a safe cornering speed even when there is no traffic ahead.

Over the 3 days we had every possible motorway traffic condition (apart from snow & ice). We also did a fair bit of town & country driving. 
The radar also detects lane markings. It sees the white lines. If you stray over a white line without indicating, the steering wheel will vibrate to warn you.

There are also radar in the back looking at the outside lanes. When a car is coming up in that lane, a warning hazard triangle lights up on the inside of your wing mirror. If you indicate to change lanes while a car is there, the hazard triangle flashes & the steering wheel vibrates to warn you. This seems to work on a calculation of relative speed between the 2 cars. eg if you are going 60k in town the warning system will be fine if there are (say) 3 free car lengths. However if you are on the Autobahn doing 160k & there is a car coming up at 200k, the warning will go on when the approaching car is 100m back.

In heavy congested traffic you can just set the speed to 20kmph faster then the traffic flow & let the radar pull you along with the car in front. It would make a daily commute up the Auckland motorway much more relaxing.

If a vehicle in front of you brakes suddenly you get a Crash Alert alarm & have a second or 2 to react before the car will apply an emergency stop. We had about 4 crash alarms during the trip, but were not brave enough to test out the system.

Towards the end of the trip we came across a car crumpled under the back of a truck. With the radar system this nose to tail accident should almost never happen. 18 months ago my GF drove into the back of a stationery truck (photo below). Luckily she walked away. But it would not have happened with the radar.

The radar system cost my friend about $1200. This is cheap given that it could save your life. It would also pay for itself in fuel saving. Automatic acceleration deceleration is much more efficient than constant gear changing in heavy traffic.

There is an upgraded version of the system which I have looked at on YouTube. Because the radar can see the lanes, the new system will automatically keep you in the lane & steer for you. You just need to keep one hand on the wheel. If you take a hand off for 10 seconds a warning sounds & the car will then slow down & stop.

The new system will also automatically changes lanes when you indicate (providing there is no traffic there).

A couple of weaknesses I saw. The radar can not anticipate what a vehicle in front of you in the other lane will do. eg sometimes you see that a car in the slow lane is about to pull out to overtake a slower vehicle. The radar will not pick that up until the car is at least half way into the lane in front of you. So we could be barrelling along at 180k when a van doing 110k pulls out in front of us to pass a truck doing 90k. It made for interesting times.

It only picks up motorbikes at about ½ the distance ahead that it would see a car. It also only sees motorbikes if they are in the centre of the lane. As a biker myself, I often ride close to the dotted line & the radar would not pick me up there.

As radar becomes more common the price will come down & I can see it becoming a standard safety requirement just like airbags, crumple zones and seat belts. The system we used was developed by one brand of car, but I’m sure that other manufactures have or are working on something similar.

So I will leave you with a photo of my GF’s car after the nose to tail with a truck on the motorway. She is still in the car at this point. There are 2 ways to avoid this in the future – buy a car with Radar or ban women drivers.


– LabTested

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