Recently, my colleague here at Overdrive wrote about a fellow driver’s prescription for dealing with the persnickety nature of collision mitigation systems while also increasing fuel mileage, generally. The operator’s notion is simple: Where possible, increase your following distance to avoid engaging the automated braking system as much as possible, preserving or increasing your fuel mileage in the process. All well and good, and certainly achievable along less-trafficked lanes, but I thought Todd Dills, Overdrive Senior Editor, well captured my own feelings about the tech in the KW I’m in a lease-purchase for at present — mild annoyance to outright disgust just about explains it.
I did not care for the idea of including collision mitigation on the truck from the get-go. After 20 years and 3 million miles, I have technology determining when I should increase my following distance, when I should change lanes, and when I should apply the brakes – oftentimes doing it for me. I have learned to use it and live with it, though at times I wonder if the latter could change at any moment.
With the adaptive cruise system engaged, the vehicle will slow at times, for instance, when I otherwise might not, including within about 6-7 seconds of the vehicle up ahead. If you want to keep up momentum for a pass, you need to change lanes well more than two truck lengths behind the vehicle ahead. If you do not change lanes, the system reduces the throttle, slowing you down until ultimately applying the brakes. But if you do change lanes to pass, the gap that you have just created invites four-wheelers to pass you on the right and, in my experience more times than I can count, cut you off so that your brakes are applied anyway.
Now you have lost your momentum out in the passing lane, necessitating a move back over out of the way of passing traffic until you get back up to speed to try again. There goes your fuel-mileage benefit out the stacks.
Another lovely treat with this system: I have lost count how many times it has applied the brakes because it detected an overpass up ahead as an object to collide with, forcing me to override the braking by hitting the throttle. Then it has locked up on me when other vehicles have gotten all the way off on exit ramps and I’m passing them in the travel lane. Once it locked up so bad on me coming out of a construction zone, after a four-wheeler cut me off, that it almost caused the four-wheeler behind me to have a rear-end collision with my DOT bumper. Another time a trucker cut me off so tightly it locked up, throwing every loose item in my sleeper into the cab and my dog against the dash.
Another fun experience: When passing other vehicles in a curve it will occasionally brake in the middle of the curve. That’s far from safe and could lead to a roll-over. I’ve gotten to the point where I can anticipate most of these triggers, but my fear is one day it will do just as I have described on snow or ice. (At once, I’ve found that when the device is covered in ice, it does not work at all.)
One wonderful thing it does is when you release your brakes and wish to roll it will lock up and not allow you to do so until it thinks the way is clear.
The noise it makes when following distance decreases is best described as a mild annoyance, distracting and irritating more than anything. The noise continues until either the vehicle that cut you off increases its speed and the distance, or you decrease your speed and distance — again, slow and go. Then, of course, you have the noise of the lane-departure warning. While that is not much of a bother, there are times you need to roll out of your lane a bit to avoid obstacles, and the last thing I need, really, is its scolding for doing so.
Why do we put up with all this? Why not just find other work that does not require me to tolerate it? First: I like my company and the people I work with. I like the money, and I like the truck, all things considered. And there’s an argument for collision mitigation that, even with its clear issues, trumps much of them. With ambulance-chasing lawyers always looking for an angle, the last thing we need to do is give them ammunition. With all the unpredictable maneuvering out there today, can you hear it, too? So, Mr. Petersen, at $1,700 you did not think it was worth the price for a safety device that would have prevented the accident you are in court over today?
Personally, if I must choose the lesser of two evils, I will choose the technology over sitting in front of a judge and jury trying to defend why I did not need it.