Nissan's luxury Infiniti division will soon introduce a new auto safety system designed to prevent one of the most common causes of highway accidents.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says 55 percent of fatal highway accidents in the United States are caused by unintended lane changes, that is, wandering from your chosen traffic lane.
Nissan North America will introduce the Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system later this year on the 2005 Infiniti FX sport wagon. Nissan's Director for Product Safety, Bob Yakushi, outlines why some drivers change lanes without meaning to.
"Contributing factors behind some of those lane departures include driver distraction, inattention and even drowsiness, so this lane departure warning system generates a warning to help alert the driver that the vehicle is moving out of its lane," he said.
The warning is both visual and audible. Mr. Yakushi explains how LDW works.
"It's a pretty simple system," said Bob Yakushi. "What it uses is a camera that's mounted on the rear-view mirror and that monitors the lane markings."
The camera's signal and the vehicle speed are sent to the system's microprocessing unit, which processes the information to calculate both the distance between the vehicle and the lane marking and the vehicle's rate of departure from those markings.
The vehicle must be traveling more than 45 mph for the system to operate. Activating the vehicle's turn signals will inform the system the driver intends to change lanes and cancel its warning. A manual cancel switch is also included.
The system was co-developed in the U.S. by Nissan and a company called Iteris. Iteris' Senior Vice President Francis Memole says the idea started with the long-haul trucking industry.
"It's been in production for four years, first in Europe and then in North America, about two years ago," he said.
Mr. Memole says the LDW does have its limits, but a rain-slick highway is not one of them.
"Rainy conditions, most rainy conditions are not a problem," he said. "Well, sometimes where you get just light everywhere, it can be a little confusing, but rain is generally not a problem."
We asked Nissan's Bob Yakushi about the effect of painted lane markings that are worn down from constant use. He says that's difficult for the system.
"The system can detect if there's only one set of lane markings, either on the left or right," he said. "But, ideally, it would like to see lane markings down both left and right. It will also detect, for example, what they call Bott's Dots [small reflectors embedded in the pavement], which are those lane markings you sometimes see here in California."
Infiniti's Lane Departure Warning system will be installed in additional models in 2006. The company has not yet set a price on the device.