By PAUL STENQUIST
Ford Motor Company offered on Thursday a taste of some advanced technology that will be featured in the all-new Fusion, which is scheduled to be introduced at the Detroit auto show in January. The technical tidbit is a tracking system that can help prevent drowsy or inattentive drivers from wandering out of their lane. While similar technology has previously been offered on some automobiles, Octavio Navarro, a Ford spokesman, said in a telephone interview that the Fusion will be the first affordable nonluxury vehicle to offer this type of system.
Fusion’s Lane Keeping System monitors the vehicle’s position by a windshield-mounted digital camera that can track lane markings. If the car drifts close to the edge of the lane without the turn signal on, the driver will be notified by a vibration in the steering wheel that feels much like the pulsing caused by rumble strips in the road. A system that Ford calls Lane Keeping Aid can steer the car back toward the center of the lane if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning.
If the Lane Keeping System calculates that the driving pattern over a period of time suggests that the driver is drowsy, a chime sounds and a coffee cup icon warning appears on the instrument panel. If the driver continues to nap, a second chime is issued.
According to a Ford news release, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 reported accidents are caused annually by drowsy drivers, resulting in 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary loses.
The system must be turned on by the driver, who can choose to employ just the alert function without the steering assist. The intensity of the warnings is also driver selectable. The switched-on system becomes active at speeds over 40 m.p.h. when lane markings are visible.
“Fusion’s Lane Keeping System combines a digital imaging sensor with our own state-of-the-art control software to process images and determine what level of warning or assistance to provide to the driver,” Michale Kane, Ford development engineer, said in a media release.
The all-new Fusion is a very important car for Ford, because it will determine how big a role the automaker plays in the large and lucrative midsize marketplace. Few will be surprised if more details are disseminated before the big reveal at Detroit’s Cobo Hall.