A car with lane assist drives down a winding country road in Utah.

How Cars With Lane Assist Work

For decades, people have dreamed of a future of automotive automation. Today’s offerings provide assistance with steering, braking, speed and more. Lane-assist technology has been around for a while, but has improved in recent years to the point of near autonomy under certain conditions — and not a moment too soon. In an era of distraction, cars with lane assist are making the roads a significantly safer place to be.

Get Your Swerve On

There are three types of lane assist. The first is the oldest and simplest, which is simply an alert system. This technology monitors whether you are in the lane or not, and warns you when you’ve strayed. The alert can be heard as a ding or a voice, seen as a light on the dash or even felt as your steering wheel or seat starts to shake.

Lane-keep assist takes it one step further and gently pulls the vehicle back inside the lane if you begin to cross it without the turn signal. The most advanced feature is lane-centering assist, which not only keeps you inside the lane, but centers you in it, rendering driver input on the wheel virtually unnecessary. The technology for fully autonomous vehicles isn’t quite there yet, though, so keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

Tech That Keeps You in Check
Lane Assist: Dark Magic?

Lane-assist technology relies on sensory input from a lane departure camera, with the help of infrared sensors and lasers in some cases. Most commonly, the camera is found in the front of the car, near or in the rearview mirror. In some models, however, the camera is actually mounted on the back of the vehicle.

In any case, the video is processed in real time, and a program coded to read the lines on the road turns visual data into input that the onboard computer can read. This computer then nearly instantaneously sends out commands to actuators that alert the driver or steer the vehicle back between the lines.

The problem is that since the camera relies on visual input, the system isn’t useful when vision is impaired. This could be because of rain, snow, leaves or simply poorly painted or faded lines (if the road has lines at all). For this reason, it remains important not to rely on lane assist alone, but to use it simply as an added measure.

A Turning Point on the Horizon

Steering-assist technology works closely with other advanced systems such as adaptive cruise control, assisted braking, and blind-spot recognition. There is some overlap in the use of cameras to monitor the vehicle’s place in space, but features like blind-spot recognition actually use sonar and radar to locate potential threats.

As we move ever closer to fully self-driving cars, some people are concerned that humans will cede too much control, but don’t worry. For the time being, anyway, these functions are often optional and you can easily override them in the moment by simply steering slightly harder, or by altogether turning the system off. But the numbers don’t lie — in actuality, we are safer leaving the split-second decisions to algorithms.

The emergence of self-driving cars is no longer a question of if, but when, and lane-assist technology is a huge piece of that puzzle. It’s not just an exciting time to be a driver, but it’s also a safer one.

Check out all the relays, sensors and switches available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cars with lane assist, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.

about author

Blair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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