Skip to main content
driving concerns

My 74-year-old mom just bought a top-of-the-line SUV with all the driver-assist features. When she asked me to turn them off because they weren’t working properly, I just thought she needed help learning how they work. But when I drove it myself, I noticed that lane-keeping assist didn’t always recognize the lane markings and adaptive cruise control didn’t always slow down for the car in front. Here’s my question: Do government regulators have standards for these systems, and do they test them to make sure they work? – Byron, Lethbridge, Alta.

If you’re looking for standards for driver-assist systems, you’re on your own – for now.

Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, which set the safety requirements for all new cars sold here, don’t include standards for advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).

“Canada and the international community are actively working to develop explicit standards that establish performance and testing requirements for specific driver-assistance technologies,” said Frédérica Dupuis, Transport Canada spokeswoman, in an email.

What are ADAS? They’re systems that use various sensors or video to track what’s happening around your car.

If they sense you’re about to make a dangerous manoeuvre, they’ll warn you – and some can take over. Some systems help you during regular driving by keeping your car centred in your lane or keeping a set distance from the car in front of you.

They include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning.

Systems from different car companies work in different ways, have different warning signals and even have different names.

While ADAS aren’t required on any vehicles in Canada, the European Union will be requiring several systems, including emergency braking and emergency lane-keeping, on new vehicles next year.

The U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not immediately answer questions about standards there.

Last fall, Transport Canada asked Canadians for their thoughts on whether ADAS should be required on vehicles and whether they should meet specific standards. The results haven’t been released.

Fail safe?

ADAS don’t always work, said Angelo DiCicco, special projects manager with the Ontario Safety League.

“Twice in two years on my 2018 Prius Prime, snowflakes stopped the ability of my sensors to sense the vehicle in front of me,” DiCicco said. “It disappeared from the software, even though it was still in front of me, and my vehicle actually started accelerating toward it.”

Lousy weather, curving roads and worn lines on pavement can confuse some systems.

“With lane guidance, I’ll take my hands off the steering wheel for 10-15 seconds just to see the limits, because that’s part of my job,” DiCicco said. “Quite often, if lanes aren’t beautifully painted, I’ll notice the vehicle drifting closer and closer to the cement wall, and the vehicle doesn’t alert me.”

While the worst-case scenario is that ADAS could steer you into a crash, it’s more likely that systems could just stop working without you realizing it.

“Several times, my vehicle handed back control to me with a simple beep,” DiCicco said. “If I’d been in the middle of having a sip of coffee, I’d lost that situational awareness and it might take me a second or two to realize that I was in charge again.”

That’s why these systems are a backup but, despite names like Autopilot, aren’t ready to replace drivers entirely, DiCicco said.

So what should you do if your car’s safety systems aren’t always safe?

“Consumers should report vehicle defects to the manufacturer,” Transport Canada’s Dupuis said.

You can also report a safety defect directly to Transport Canada, she said.

“The defect-investigation division analyzes consumer-reported complaints, including those involving driver-assist systems, and may initiate defect investigations when required,” she said. “In the event that such an investigation identifies a safety defect, a recall would result.”

On a list of investigations on Transport Canada’s website, there is only one involving ADAS – for emergency brakes on some Nissan SUVs that could potentially stop when there’s no emergency.

If a consumer complaint doesn’t lead to a recall, you likely won’t hear any details about it.

“[Consumer] complaints and collision or defect-investigation files are not available to the public as they contain confidential information,” Dupuis said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.

Interact with The Globe