Top car tech for rubbish drivers (and their terrified spouses)

Men blame women for driving erratically, and women blame men. Luckily, car manufacturers are installing high-tech gadgets that could settle this long-running automotive battle of the sexes once and for all.

Rory Reid
6 min read

Sitting in the passenger seat while a woman drives is a frightening experience. That's the verdict of a survey carried out by UK market research firm OnePoll, who recently asked 3,000 (newly dumped?) blokes for the ten most terrifying traits exhibited by female drivers.

Shortness of concentration, braking too late, erratic use of the accelerator and getting too close to other cars (don't men do all this stuff, too?) all featured on the list of complaints. Curiously, we found that nearly all the listed gripes could be mitigated with the wonders of modern automotive technology.

With that in mind, we've listed the most common complaints identified by the survey participants and highlighted some little-known car tech that could help allay their fears.

Let's kick things off with the most common complaint of all: shortage of concentration.

Picture this: you're driving home from a dirty weekend away, with your spouse at the wheel, when he or she begins to nod off. You confront them, but they insist the intravenous Red Bull they're mainlining is keeping them awake. Moments later, they've fallen asleep and you're both upside down with a face full of airbag. Bummer.

This sort of thing is preventable. Many modern cars, including the Volvo XC60, have systems that continuously monitor a driver's alertness levels and issue warnings when they believe you're beginning to nod off. These vehicles use on-board computers that analyse steering inputs, and cameras that peer over the bonnet to see how well the vehicle is being driven between the road markings.

In the case of the XC60, five indicator bars in the instrument binnacle show the driver's current perceived level of concentration -- just like the reception indicators on a mobile phone. You can make your own executive decision as to when you need to pull over based on the number of bars, but if you ignore the dwindling concentration for too long and the system believes you're driving erratically due to tiredness, it will display a warning message that you need to take a break.

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Rubbish drivers often leave it too late to brake, causing their terrified spouses to wear a hole in the passenger floor mats by pushing an imaginary brake pedal. Luckily, those days may be over, thanks to innovative automatic braking systems that'll stop a car even if the driver's not paying due attention.

Mercedes-Benz's Pre-Safe Braking system, for instance, can automatically detect whether you're driving too fast and too close to the vehicle in front. If that's the case, audible and visual warnings are issued, telling you to slow down. If the driver doesn't react, Pre-Safe Braking automatically applies 40 per cent of the maximum braking force, tightens your seatbelts, puts the passenger seats in an upright position and pumps your seats with air to provide optimum protection in preparation for impact.

If the driver still doesn't respond either by swerving or braking, Pre-Safe Braking automatically applies 100 percent of the car's braking force. You'll still crash, but the car's impact speed is reduced by 10kph, ensuring a corresponding reduction in crash energy and broken teeth.

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Even the best of drivers are guilty of erratic acceleration. At best, the resultant forward lurching can cause a bout of motion sickness or mild whiplash, and at worst, you could find yourself ploughing into the car in front.

Luckily, automatic cruise control systems like Mercedes-Benz's Distronic Plus can help. Using the same radar sensors as the Pre-Safe Braking system, Distronic Plus automatically judges the distance between your car and the one in front, and smoothly applies the drive-by-wire accelerator to keep up with it. Distronic Plus' radar systems detect when the car in front brakes, too, and will slow your car to maintain a safe distance -- even down to a complete stop if necessary.

See it in our Mercedes-Benz E-Class review, or watch the YouTube clip below:

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So, your spouse has a careless disregard for lane markings. They'll happily straddle two lanes, drive along rumble strips and cat's eyes (from an actual feline) oblivious to the chaos they're leaving in their wake. Worry not -- car makers have dreamed up some space-age tech to help keep them, and you, out of danger.

Cars equipped with Lane Departure Warning Systems have cameras, usually mounted in the windscreen, that continuously scan the road in front for lane markings. If a lane marking is crossed without the driver indicating or actively turning the wheel, the system issues an audible alert and sends a vibration through the steering wheel.

With a little luck, the driver will realise they're not driving within the lane markings and make the necessary adjustment. If not, there are some advanced systems that will physically pull you back in line by applying the brakes on the opposite side of the vehicle to the lane marking being breached.

See it in action below:

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Is your other half prone to driving too close to people in front? Terrified? You're not alone. Almost all of us have come close to voiding our bowels due to tailgating.

Fortunately for us, and our dry-cleaners, Adaptive Cruise Control can save the day. This system is very similar to standard cruise control, in that it maintains the vehicle at the driver's chosen speed, without him or her having to touch the accelerator pedal. Adaptive Cruise Control goes a step further, however. It'll actively apply the brakes should you encounter slower cars up ahead, then re-apply the accelerator until you reach your previously selected speed. Best of all, it'll maintain a safe, user-specified distance between your vehicle and the one in front at all times.

See it in action below:

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Fiddling with the stereo is one of the most common distractions in a motor vehicle. One minute, you're listening to the sweet spittings of Snoop Dogg, and the next, your ears are assaulted by the high-pitched shriek of Mariah Carey. Nobody can blame you for taking your eye off the road to initiate an emergency track change -- but that can come at the expense of personal safety.

Fortunately, car makers have discovered a solution. Many cars now have buttons on the steering wheel for making station and track changes without taking your eyes off the road. Better still, many also come with voice control, so you can audibly inform the car of what sort of music you want to listen to. Ford's Sync system, available in the new Ford Focus, allows users to skip tracks, adjust the volume and even select tracks by name -- all through the power of voice.

See it in action below:

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Almost all drivers are guilty of having broken the speed limit at one time or another. Modern cars are so smooth and fast nowadays that the sense of speed doesn't really register when you're behind the wheel.

That's why user-controlled speed-limiting functions are becoming increasingly necessary. These allow the user to specify the maximum speed the vehicle should reach, ensuring he or she never breaks the speed limit. Should you grow bored of being stuck behind an old grandma and need an extra burst of speed, the speed-limiting function can usually be overridden by mashing the accelerator to the floor and, optionally, bellowing the word 'powwwaaaarr!!!'.

See it in action here: