The desire to build the safest vehicles possible, those that protect their occupants and other road users, and increasing motoring safety awareness has prompted an influx of technology that revolves around the simple parking sensor.
Let’s start with reverse sensors. These are proximity sensors often mounted into the bumper of the vehicle (front and/or rear). The sensors detect objects in close proximity and progressively warn the driver of objects approaching, very handy when parking or manoeuvring around in tight spaces. The closer you are to an object, the faster and more prominent the warnings get, and can be accompanied with a proximity indicator display as a visual aid. The downside is that they can be rather annoying when triggered while you're sitting in traffic or pedestrians walk around your vehicle.
These sensors combine with a reversing camera to form a very basic starting point that pretty much all car manufacturers are adopting. The camera is usually positioned near the rear number plate in a central location to give an even view of what’s going on. The image is then projected onto a screen inside the vehicle and is sometimes displayed on a small screen incorporated into the rear view mirror. The display screen inside the car may have horizontal lines that simulate the width and path your car will travel. You can line these up with a carpark space to ensure you fit in the spot. Upgraded systems include steering angle or 'projected path' lines that change their position based on your steering wheel angle to help the driver carry out that perfect parking manoeuvre in record time.
The difficulty with all this technology is resisting the urge to swivel round in your seat and look out the windows when reversing. In fact, the camera and mirrors produce a more informative rear view. Some motorists like to open the driver’s door while reversing and manufacturers have cottoned on to this and incorporated safety systems that stop the car from moving if the door is open while in gear/drive. This system is designed to eliminate the vehicle continuing to move should you fall out, and causing injury.
Some systems are adopting Blind Spot Information Systems (BLIS) which incorporates Rear Cross Traffic Alert. BLIS warns the driver of vehicles approaching from your blind spot while changing lanes in traffic. This alert takes form in a flashing icon located either on the side mirror glass or in a similar location. Cross Traffic Alert scans up and down the street and warns the driver of vehicles approaching as you reverse out of a carpark or driveway. This is extremely helpful when reversing out in an area with limited view of the roadway, and can prevent collisions with people on the pavement or passing traffic.
Next-level parking systems are now adopting cameras that feature a 360 degree, bird's eye view of the vehicle and its surroundings. These systems make use of multiple cameras around the vehicle and blend the pictures to form a complete view of the vehicle, which is then projected over a top view image of the vehicle.
Manufacturers have incorporated a feature that will not only warn you of obstacles, but that will actively stop the vehicle from continuing to drive if it senses an impact is imminent. This is new technology which first featured in the top-spec luxury European market. We are sure to see the flow on effect of this technology spread across other vehicles.
We recommend that a combination of both technology and driver awareness is key because, as handy as these aids are, they don't substitute the need for the person behind the wheel to be monitoring their surroundings at all times. We would encourage drivers to purchase the safest vehicle they can afford, and if your budget allows, these sensor-based safety systems are well worth considering.