Self-driving cars frequently make the news these days. And every time a new article appears, you can hear the collective groan of petrol heads and control freaks.

Most of us love going for a drive and don’t want to be kept from this pleasurable activity. Except when the traffic lights are out because of Eskom’s hopelessness (why on earth aren’t these lights solar-powered anyway?) and the cars subsequently move so slowly that a 2-year-old could outwalk them. Or when the road conditions are dangerous due to factors like low visibility, rain or miniature dongas commonly referred to as potholes. Not to mention sharing the blacktop with drivers who send WhatsApp messages while moving or those who bought their licenses.

Still not convinced? OK, how about self-driving cars for the other drivers? You know, people who can’t drive, who make the mistakes “we never make”. So instead of a wayward bakkie driving into your vehicle, killing or maiming you or your passengers, the bakkie’s tin brain sees the imminent collision, corrects its course and sends it up an embankment.

Unfortunately it will be another three decades or so before the benefits of these self-drivers can be enjoyed by the majority of road users. But the technology certainly exists and not all of it is confined to the laboratory.

Our Volvo V40 T4 Cross Country received a generous measure of intelligent safety tech. Some of it comes courtesy of its optional Safety Pack (R29 000), but much of it is standard equipment on all present generation Volvos. The most familiar safety feature is likely to be the the adaptive cruise control, also found on other premium cars. This function scans the road in front of it with radar when the car’s speed is set to a constant, let’s say, 120 km/h. If the V40 catches up to a road user tootling along at 100 km/h (usually in the fast lane if in Cape Town) it will decrease its speed without input from the driver. If the slower driver changes to the left lane or speeds up, the V40 will accelerate back to 120 km/h.

So the V40 has excellent forward vision, but that’s not all. Like a chameleon (or an owl or a common house fly – all these have better lateral vision than humans) the V40 also scans the lanes on either side and to the rear. To prevent the Volvo driver from changing lanes when a car approaches from behind, in the next lane, the V40 alerts her of that car’s presence by flashing small lights in the side mirrors. If those lights flicker, you know you have to wait until that car passes. Volvo has a cute acronym for it, BLIS, that abbreviates Blind Spot Information System.

These eyes in the back of it’s head enable the V40 to do something else that’s impressive, helpful and adds to its safety credentials. It’s called Cross Traffic Alert and it scans the road behind you when you reverse out of a parking spot. So, if there’s a car approaching, even from 40 metres away and the V40’s gear lever is in reverse, it will sound a warning. This means “stay put and wait until it’s safe before you push back... or do you want us killed!?”.

As if all this is not enough, the car also behaves cleverly in traffic. It will flash a light that projects in the windscreen if a car in front suddenly brakes or a pedestrian steps into the road. If the driver does not react, the car will slam on the brakes.

It’s hard not to like an intelligent car that does all of these and I find the Cross Traffic Alert particularly useful. More about the V40 Cross Country clever safety tech in the next article.

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