How Does Lane Centering Work?

An important building block of autonomous cars

Lane Centering is a technology designed to keep a vehicle centered in its driving lane. This advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) constantly checks the position of the vehicle in relation to the left and right lane markings and makes adjustments to keep the vehicle centered between them.

Lane Centering is an important technology in relation to autonomous cars, as it can be paired with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) to provide nearly hands-free driving in some limited situations as long as the driver remains vigilant and prepared to take complete control.

How Does Lane Centering Work?

In general terms, lane centering systems work by constantly monitoring the position of lane markings in relation to the position of a vehicle and then automatically taking corrective action if the vehicle deviates from the center of the lane. This is achieved by automatically steering the vehicle, without driver input, to keep the vehicle oriented parallel to the left and right lane markings.

Most vehicle manufacturers have some form of lane centering technology, and each one works in a slightly different way.

Lane Centering Sensors

Most Lane Centering systems use one or more cameras feeding real-time image data that’s processed using a variety of techniques to determine the location of lane markings. Some systems also make use of laser, radar, infrared, and other sensors. For example, Nissan ProPilot uses a forward-facing radar sensor to help negotiate curves in the road. 

Adaptive Cruise Control

Lane Centering is typically used together with Adaptive Cruise Control. Some vehicles pair both together to create a semi-autonomous driving mode, and others allow you to turn Lane Centering on if you’ve already turned on Adaptive Cruise Control.

Since Adaptive Cruise Control works to maintain a constant speed, while automatically slowing down in response to traffic and obstacles, the combination of Lane Centering and Adaptive Cruise Control allow for a limited degree of automated driving. Most Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Centering systems require the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel, while others monitor driver attention with a sensor which checks to make sure the driver’s eyes are on the road.

Is Lane Centering Different From Lane Departure Warning?

Lane Centering and other systems like Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assist are similar. These systems all work to monitor the position of a vehicle between the lane markings, but the actions they’re capable of taking are different.

Here are the important differences between these systems:

  • Lane Centering: When the vehicle deviates from the center of the lane, the system automatically steers it back to the center. Some of these systems are capable of handling curves in the road and can be paired with Adaptive Cruise Control for limited autonomous driving.
  • Lane Keeping Assist: These systems typically provide some sort of warning or mild corrective action if the vehicle drifts from the center of its lane. The system may sound an alarm, show an indicator on the dashboard, or exert light torque on the steering wheel so the driver knows to take corrective action before accidentally leaving their lane.
  • Lane Departure Warning: These are the least invasive systems. They still monitor the vehicle’s position, but they only provide a visual or audible warning when the vehicle starts to drift. The system may make a sound, flash a warning on the dashboard, or provide haptic feedback through the steering wheel or seat.

Is Lane Centering Safe?

Lane Centering is safe, but it isn’t infallible. When driving a vehicle with Lane Centering, it’s very important to keep your eyes on the road so you can take action if the system fails or something unexpected happens. Some systems won’t even function if you don’t keep your hands on the wheel, forcing you to remain ready to take control at any time.

Faded Lane Markings and Weather Conditions

Since Lane Centering systems rely on lane marking to function, they don’t work well if the lane markings are faded or obscured, and they don’t work at all if the lane markings are missing.

Some systems also function poorly in certain weather conditions, like rain and snow, so it’s important to become familiar with how your own vehicle reacts in those conditions. Depending on the specific system, you will either have to be extra vigilant or even just turn the Lane Centering system off and drive manually.

Which Cars Have the Best Lane Centering?

There are a lot of different metrics you could use to determine which cars have the best Lane Centering, and a part of the equation relies on personal preference. For example, a driver who prefers a greater degree of control would be better off with a less-invasive Lane Departure Warning system than a highly responsive Lane Centering system that’s highly integrated into an automated driving system.

Driver Favorites: Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac Super Cruise

According to a study from the IIHS, drivers are most confident and comfortable with Tesla’s Autopilot, followed by Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, Driving Assistance Plus, Super Cruise, and finally Traffic Jam Assist. A large percentage of drivers indicated they felt safe letting Tesla’s Autopilot operate in a fully autonomous fashion, which isn’t an approved use. In fact, a number of highly publicized accidents, some fatal, have resulted from drivers being overly confident in Autopilot.

In another study, Consumer Reports tested over a dozen driver assistance systems, the best of which all included Lane Centering. According to Consumer Reports, Cadillac’s Super Cruise has the best Lane Centering, followed by Tesla’s Autopilot, Ford’s Co-Pilot 360, Audi’s Pre Sense, and Hyundai's SmartSense which is also available in some Kia models.

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