How car tech is changing the way we learn to drive

When it comes to our vehicles, recent innovations in technology are not just making us safer on the road – they’re also making it easier to get on the road in the first place.

Earlier this year it was announced that learner drivers would be able to use parking sensors during their driving tests, as well as being required to use a satnav for part of the test. This change came into action on the 4th December 2017 and is the biggest shake-up to UK driving tests in recent times. This raises questions about what other technology might come into play in the future.

In fact, there has already been heated debate about the fairness of having some learners tested in modern, well-equipped vehicles while others continue to use older cars with a more traditional set-up. However, there’s no disputing the fact that the changing face of in-car technology is having a huge impact on the way we learn to drive.

Automated assistance
From alerts that let a driver know when the speed limit has changed, to built-in functionality that helps with controlled braking and staying in lane, automated driver assistance is a crucial feature in keeping drivers safe on the road. These kinds of tools and technologies pay extra attention on our behalf, and offer all the flashing lights and warning alerts a learner driver might need to remember to do their checks and observations. 

Types of automated assistance include things like:

Lane Departure Warning – The use of a forward-facing camera to monitor lines on the road, and alert the driver if they start to drift into another lane. The warning usually comes in the form of a dashboard alert, or a vibration from the seat and/or steering wheel. 

Blind Spot Detection – This uses ultrasonic or radar sensors to alert a driver if another vehicle is coming alongside them. The alert remains in place until the flagged vehicle is out of your blind spot and located somewhere you can’t miss it. And, if you’re drifting, this technology will automatically blink your indicators – to warn nearby vehicles that you may be about to move into their path.

Forward Collision Warning – Camera or radar-based sensors scan the road ahead and trigger warnings if a slow-moving or stopped vehicle – or other object – are likely to cause a collision, and the assisted driver needs to slow or stop.

Where learner drivers have previously been more accident prone, and thus prone to higher insurance premiums and higher vehicle upkeep costs, inventions like these can help minimise beginner risk. In doing so, they can make insuring yourself as a learner driver cheaper, as well as making your driving safer.

Parking sensors
Perhaps some of the most daunting aspects of learning to drive for many people, car tech has shaken up even those that were once considered compulsory elements of driver training; reversing around a corner, three-point turns and reversing into a parking space.

While the first two manoeuvres have been dropped from driving test criteria completely, reversing into a space between two cars is now easier than ever for learner drivers, thanks to the acceptance of parking sensor use in a test situation.

Parking sensors use electromagnetics or ultrasonic waves to gauge a car’s distance from objects around its rear, like low walls or other vehicles. Beeping sounds alert the driver to the proximity of hazards by beeping in increasing frequency as obstacles get closer, making it much easier for learners to avoid mishaps and exhibit perfect parking skills.

Hill start assist
Another feature that can help you during a driving test, hill start assist removes the fear of rolling backwards on an incline. For example, when moving off from traffic lights or pulling out from a parking space on a steep slope.

Where learners previously had to perfect their handbrake and clutch control to avoid unintentional reversing or burning the clutch, hill start assist essentially holds the brake down on a driver’s behalf as they switch from brake to accelerator on an incline. 

All learner drivers will still be tested on hill starts at some point during their test, so being allowed access to technology that makes an error almost impossible is certainly an advantage.

The future of learning to drive
Innovations like Mercedes’ Eco-Assist are turning vehicles from things that we drive into things that help us drive better. While systems like these are currently overridable in mass-produced cars, and out of the reach of your average learner driver, the future of in-car technology seems set to continue making our lives easier as well as safer.

To those who learned to drive the ‘old-fashioned’ way, starting out in a car that boasts adaptive cruise control and automatic, intelligent acceleration and braking might feel like a bit of a cheat. But technology only ever moves forwards, not backwards - and it may not be long before learning to drive a car that cannot think for itself feels obsolete. 

Now that hill start assist and parking sensors are permitted in driving tests, it may be only a matter of time before the full arsenal of safety features comes into play. But while most learners continue to drive second-hand cars and typically older models, one question that remains is whether all this technology really will make today’s learners more efficient, or if it will simply serve to create a generation of drivers unprepared for the road.

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