Drive-Assist Features – What you need to know


The majority of new cars now come equipped with an array of advanced drive-assist systems. These systems have been developed to help make motoring safer and easier.

There are an array of drive-assist systems now on the market, from features which help to make parking easier to systems that will brake for you in the event of a collision. They have become so mainstream that many of these drive-assist systems are now tested as part of the Euro NCAP test.

In this guide, we take a look at some of the most common drive-assist features including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and emergency braking assist. This should give you a better understanding of the drive-assist features currently on offer.

Different car manufacturers have developed their own drive-assist safety systems. This means that the systems may differ slightly, so the descriptions given are a rough guide of what you may expect. In addition, many manufacturers have named their systems differently, so where appropriate we have included some common alternative names for the system.

Active Park Assist

Common names: Park Assist, Automatic Parking Assist, Remote Smart Parking Assist, Intelligent Parking Assist, Parking Assistant, AutoPark

What it does?

You can wave goodbye to embarrassing parking gaffes and nerve-wracking attempts to pull into a parking space. Active Park Assist systems automatically park your car with little or no input from you.

Most park assist systems are designed to operate for parallel parking, as this is considered one of the trickiest manoeuvres by drivers. While more advanced systems can park in virtually any space as well as being able to pull out of the parking space.

In most cases, the car takes control of the steering wheel and will give you instructions on acceleration, braking and the gear you need to be in. However, some manufacturers have developed systems which will complete the entire manoeuvre without any input from the driver at all.

How it works?

To carry out these challenging manoeuvres, laser and sensors are integrated into cars body panels and bumpers. The lasers can measure the gaps between parked vehicles and the sensors detect obstacles.

Lasers and sensors are fitted to both sides of the vehicles to ensure you can park on either side of the road.

How to operate it?

In most cars, you simply press the Park Assist button, and the sensors will assess the area around you for a suitable parking space. The system then alerts you when it has found one. All you have to do is stop and follow the instructions which are usually shown on the touchscreen infotainment system.

Be Aware

These systems are extremely precise and in many cases, the gap only needs to be 1.2 times the length of the car. While this is great for you, remember that not everyone has this system, and they may find it tricky to get out of their space if the gap is too narrow.

Adaptive Cruise Control

Common names: adaptive cruise control, active cruise control, smart cruise control, intelligent cruise control, smart cruise control, radar cruise control

What it does?

Adaptive cruise control is a more advanced cruise control system. It not only maintains your set speed but can also maintain a set distance between you and the car in front. The distance between you and the car in front can be set manually by you.

Adaptive cruise control with stop and go is an even more advanced system which is capable of functioning at low speeds and will even bring you to a full stop and can start you again.

How it works?

The system uses laser or radar systems mounted within the front of the car. These scan the road ahead of you to measure how far ahead cars are in front of you. This allows the car to slow down if you get too close to a car in front.

How to operate it?

In most cases, you simply accelerate to your desired speed and push the set button on your adaptive cruise control system. You can then use the ‘+’ or ‘-’ buttons accordingly.

Once the speed is set, you can set the gap you wish to maintain from the car ahead (usually set in either metres or car lengths).

Once both speed and distance are set, if the car in front slows down, your car will slow down to maintain the set gap or will alert you to apply the brakes. However, should the car in front shoot off ahead, your car won’t automatically speed up. Instead, it will maintain the set speed you originally set.

Be Aware

The systems vary between manufacturers, so it’s a good idea to get used to the system and its foibles before relying on it. You should also ensure you always stay in complete control of your car.

Drive-assist: Adaptive cruise control image

Adaptive Headlights

Common names: dynamic bending lights, active bending lights

What they do?

Adaptive headlights help to light your path as the headlights follow the direction of steering wheels. This ensures the headlights illuminate the road ahead rather than the side of it.

How they work?

Some dynamic bending headlights incorporate lights that swivel the headlights to where the wheels are pointing. These utilise electronic sensors to detect the speed of the car, how far the driver has turned the steering wheel and the yaw of the car.

Some systems use sensors which direct small electric motors built into the headlight casing to turn the headlights. These typically move up to 15-degrees from the centre position giving them a 30-degree range of movement.

Whereas on other systems, separate lights aimed in a slightly different direction to straight on, are switched on when directed by the sensors.

Most systems include a self-levelling system so that the lights aren’t affected by uneven road surfaces and won’t dazzle oncoming drivers.

Drive-assist: Adaptive headlights

Blind-spot Monitoring

Common names: side assist, blind-spot detection, lane change alert, side blind-zone alert, blind-spot information system, BLIS, blind-spot collision warning, blind-spot warning, blind-spot assist and lane-change assist

How it works?

The system uses radar waves in order to detect if a car is moving into your blind-spot.

If another car enters your cars blind spot, it will alert you. The warning usually comes courtesy of a light on or near the wing mirror the vehicle has been detected near. Whereas other systems will give an audible cue of the prospective danger.

Some manufacturers will heighten the response if you try to move into an area when unsafe, for example, the steering wheel may vibrate. While others have systems which actually show you what is happening in your blind-spot. While the Honda-e has taken things a step further by replacing wing mirrors with camera systems.

How to operate it?

Blind-spot detection is usually an inbuilt system which starts working as soon as you start driving. Some manufacturers will offer a way to switch off the system.

Drive-assist: blind-spot monitoring

Automatic Emergency Braking

Common names: collision mitigation braking, city collision mitigation, forward automatic braking, active braking, active brake assist, autonomous emergency braking, city safety, AEB

What it does?

Automatic emergency braking is designed to help prevent accidents occurring by automatically applying the brakes for you if a collision is imminent and you have taken no action. Most systems work for forward-collisions only, although some do incorporate rear systems as well (see rear-cross traffic alert for rear collision avoidance).

Not only does the system help to prevent incidents occurring in the first place, it lessens the impact should an accident occur.

Some automatic braking systems are now so advanced they can not only detect other vehicles but also pedestrians and cyclists, which help to make roads safer for everyone. On top of this, some will also prepare the vehicle for impact by taking action such as tightening restraints.

How it works?

Autonomous emergency braking uses radar, camera and/or lidar-based technology to identify potential collisions ahead of the car. This information is then combined with what the car knows of its own travel, speed and trajectory to determine whether a critical situation is developing.

In most systems, the car will warn the driver first by either a visual or audio cue, however, if no action is taken by the driver the car will then apply the brakes for you.

How to operate it?

AEB acts independently in a critical situation and will apply the brakes automatically if you don’t take action when a collision is imminent.

Drive-assist: autonomous emergency braking

Rear Cross-Traffic Alert

Common names: rear cross-path detection, cross-traffic assist rear, cross-traffic alert rear, rear cross-traffic collision warning, rear traffic monitor, rear traffic alert, cross-traffic alert

What it does?

Cross-traffic alert is a driver assistance system which is designed to help make reversing out of a perpendicular parking space easier and safer.

How it works?

Many rear-cross traffic alert systems work in a similar way to blind-spot monitoring systems. They use radar or a combination of camera and radar technology to detect the presence of moving objects in the vicinity of the car’s rear bumpers.

If the car detects movement across the path of the back of the car, it will issue a visual and/or audio cue to the driver.

More advanced systems can detect smaller objects which are harder to see like pedestrians, cyclists and animals.

While some systems are linked to the automatic emergency braking systems, so can even take over and brake for you in the event of a rear-impact collision.

Be Aware

Rear-cross monitoring systems should never replace common sense. You should always check behind you before you start reversing as well as using your mirror thought the procedure

Rear-cross traffic alert in action

Lane Centring

Common names: lane-keeping assist, lane assist, steering assist, lane-following assist, active steering assist, active lane-keep assist

What it does?

Lane-centring is perhaps the system which most moves towards semiautonomous driving. It monitors the car’s position on the road and can detect if the driver is unintentionally leaving their lane.

It can be a real help for people who spend a lot of time covering motorway miles who are more likely to become distracted or tired.

If movement is detected most cars will react by giving the driver visual or audible alerts. Other systems will provide a more obvious cue like vibrating the steering wheel and some will steer the car back into its lane.

How it works?

The system can usually be switched on or off on the car’s dash. When on, the radar uses a range of sensors, this is commonly a wide-angle camera placed in front of the rear-view mirror. The system then scans the road and identifies the lane lines and monitors the car’s position within the road, usually at speeds over 40mph.

Be Aware

While this system is the next step towards semi-autonomous driving, it is always imperative you stay alert and in control behind the wheel. You should never rely on this system to ‘drive’ for you.

driver assistance lane centring

Semi-Autonomous Drive-Assist Systems

Some manufacturers are offering semi-autonomous driving systems made up of a combination of drive-assist features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centring, for a safer, more seamless commute.

These systems push the boundaries being able to just about drive the car on its own. However, they are not yet fully-autonomous therefore the driver must always pay full attention to the road and be in control of the car.

Common semi-autonomous systems include Pilot Assist (Volvo), Autopilot (Tesla), Propilot Assist (Nissan) and Traffic-Jam Assist (Kia).

Car with Drive-Assist Features

Many new cars are available with drive-assist features to help make cars and roads safer. However, as it currently stands these features are not compulsory and are often only available as part of an optional safety pack.

Things may change soon, as the EU has ruled that from 2021 11 new safety features will be compulsory on new cars. These include:

  • Advanced emergency braking
  • Alcohol interlock installation facilitation
  • Drowsiness and attention detection
  • Event (accident) data recorder
  • Emergency stop signal
  • Full-width frontal occupant protection crash test and improved seatbelts
  • Head impact zone enlargement for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Intelligent speed assistance
  • Lane-keeping assist
  • Pole side impact occupant protection
  • Reversing camera or detection system

Given the current state of Brexit, it is not clear whether or not we will adopt these stricter drive-assist features. However, given our ties with European car manufacturers, we are likely to follow suit.

Let us know your thought on the different drive-assist features we’ve mentioned.