Car Safety Systems Don’t Always “See” in Bad Weather

In the past five years, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have exploded onto the market. Even entry-level car models sometimes come with long lists of high-tech safety equipment like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance. These systems aren’t autopilot and can’t do the driving for you, but they do help a lot with visibility and reaction times. However, if anything is blocking the system’s camera — like mud or snow — they can’t do their job. Most new cars today use a combination of radar sensors, which are hidden behind plastic in the bumpers, and optical cameras mounted behind the windshield. Radar isn’t too affected by weather or lighting conditions, and since the sensors are behind plastic, bugs don’t really bother them either. However, radar can’t see things like lane markers or make out details. That’s where the cameras come in. Cameras are better for classifying objects, but they have a harder time “seeing” in bad weather or poor lighting. Research has shown that curved lanes and high traffic can affect a car's ability to track a marked lane, and ADAS doesn't always see pedestrians walking at night. What all of this research means is that your car's ADAS can indeed assist you, but it can't replace you. Human brains are still the best onboard computers.