Techsplanations: Lane Departure Warning

Keeping on the straight and narrow has never been so simple.

And it's only going to get easier, as most carmakers begin installing Lane Departure Warning Systems to assist in the battle against distracted driving.

What is it?

The technology, developed to warn drivers when their car is about to move out its lane, has grown from being just an exclusive luxury feature to something found in many mainstream vehicles.

It's importance has continued to grow as well, as distracted driving has become a buzz word and serious safety concern among automotive experts.

How does it work?

While carmakers may use slightly different systems to create their lane departure warning system, the concept is the same. Stay between the lines.

By using a camera, typically mounted near the rear view mirror and/or in the front fascia of the vehicle, a computer can identify the lines on the road. The computer then figures out where the car is placed between the lines and monitors the vehicle's movement down the road.

Should the car begin to move onto either line and the driver does not use his turn indicator, the computer will warn the driver that the car is about to move out of the lane through a sound or some other sort of warning method, such as vibrating the steering wheel or seat, or sounding a chime.

Cadillac has added a feature to vibrate the drivers seat on the side of the car that is touching the line. Nissan uses the car's backup camera to monitor lines with similar effectiveness.

Some cars even use the vehicle's brakes to help steer the car back into its own lane. While some systems are more aggressive than others, all can be overridden by the driver.

Why would I want it?

Distractions can kill. And nowadays, there are numerous ways to find yourself distracted while behind the wheel of a vehicle. Eating, drinking, playing music and even talking on a hands-free phone may pull your attention away from navigating down a road.

It only takes a few seconds to have a 4,000-pound car move out of its lane and if the driver is not paying attention, the consequences can be dire. These systems can provide gentle reminders to drivers to prioritize things and place all of their attention to the most important thing they are doing: Driving.

Is there a downside?

The gentle reminders some systems provide can be overly intrusive. Indeed, it can feel, in some cases, like your about to lose control of your steering.

Bad drivers may not want to be constantly reminded that they're veering into another lane, though drivers in the other lane may be grateful. Additionally, some systems have difficulty working at night or during bad weather, which are times drivers might most want to use the system.

It can also provide false positives when driving through a construction zone, where the lanes are changed and the lines don't match where the car is driving.

Furthermore, having the warning system may boost some driver's confidence, meaning they might think they can do even more things while they are behind the wheel. A safety device should not be one abused.

What vehicles offer it?

Lane departure warning systems have gone mainstream over the past couple of years, with nearly every carmaker providing some sort of system in their vehicles, though they come with different names, such as Lane Assist, Lane Departure Warning or Driver Assist. Typically, these systems are bundled with other technologies such as active cruise control or blind spot warning systems.

Bottom line

This is definitely a system that can make you safer by nudging you gently back between the lines you were once driving between.

Of course, it wouldn't be needed at all if the driver just drove correctly in the first place.