(Another installment in our continuing series looking at how the cars of yesterday are being transformed into the driverless cars of tomorrow via the technology of today.)
Just as the road of life comes with its share of curves and ups and downs, so too does, well, the road. While I certainly don’t purport to have the answers as to how you might navigate the road of life with more confidence, automakers are inventing ways to help you feel more secure while driving in mountainous terrain.
What Goes Up
Nothing in life is as simultaneously beautiful and white-knuckle-inducing as a drive in the mountains. If you’re driving a car with sufficient power, getting started on such a journey isn’t usually a problem, as long as you don’t have to stop once you’ve gotten started. As you will doubtless recall, there’s this little thing called gravity. This means that after stopping on an incline, your car will want to head back downhill at the same time you want to start heading back up. Rollbacks such as these can cause strain on the engine and drivetrain and on the nerves of any drivers who happen to be behind you.
Enter a new feature called “Hill Start Assist.” This feature employs a sensor that detects the angle of the car. If the car knows that you are on a slope, it will keep the brake engaged as you move your foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator, eliminating rollback. This is especially good news for anyone who has ever driven uphill in a car with manual transmission.
Must Come Down
Eventually, you’ll want to leave the rarefied air of the mountain peak and head back down to sea level. Welcome back to the program our old pal gravity, and it seems that he’s brought along a buddy, momentum. To complicate matters, the road appears more winding on the way down than it did on the way up.
To help drivers in this situation is the aptly named “Hill Descent Assist.” Drivers must activate this feature before heading back down the mountain. This is done by pressing a dashboard button and then reducing the speed of the vehicle below the threshold speed of the feature. The feature works somewhat like cruise control. As the car travels downhill, the feature will apply the brakes automatically, not allowing the vehicle to travel above a set speed as long as it is activated. This will allow the driver greater ability to focus on steering without the worry of the car accelerating out of control.
Things to Remember While Using Hill Descent Assist
Hill Descent Assist only minimizes the effects of gravity; it doesn’t defy it. Don’t attempt to drive down an incline steeper than you would if your car didn’t have the feature.
In some cars, automatic braking activates the brake lights while in others, oddly, it doesn’t. For the benefit of vehicles behind you, place your foot lightly on the brake pedal if your brake lights are not automatically illuminated by the feature.
Be sure to take full advantage of the increased focus allowed to your steering by the elimination of your having to think about braking. Watch the road carefully and be prepared to steer to safety in the event of an unexpected obstacle or change in the roadway.