I’ve seen it many times. You see someone drifting over the lane markers as though they are either tired, using their phone, or both. It’s frustrating because you want to hold up a sign that says “pay attention” when you see it or maybe alert the authorities.
In the 2021 Ford F-250 XLT, there actually is a sign. It’s an innovative new feature for trucks, even though I’ve seen it (and experienced it) in luxury vehicles and even a few Nissan and Mazda cars over the years. As you drive, the F-250 can tell if you keep driving out of your lane. It even causes the steering wheel to vibrate in a way that feels exactly like you are driving over rumble strips (those annoying but incredibly helpful raised edges on the shoulder).
In a recent test, I wasn’t tired and I wasn’t using my phone, but I tried moving slightly out of my lane and felt those lane departure warnings in the palms of my hands. Back a few decades ago, they weren’t common, so we take them for granted now. In terms of a “virtual” feature in the F-250, it’s handy because the warnings occur in any lane, not just the ones on the sides.
After driving for a while and trying to edge out of the lane a few times, a message popped up with an icon that showed a steaming cup of coffee. It warns you to take a rest in a not-so-subtle reminder that you might need to find a hotel or head home for the day.
About 10 years ago, I remember seeing this in a Mercedes-Benz for the first time, and it was quite shocking. The car knows! In a Ford pick-up like this, a decade later but in an age of constant distraction, phones readily available, and constant pings, it is arguably even more valuable than it was way back then. I like that Ford is trying to address distracted driving or at least the temptation to drive when you are too tired. On a longer trip across two states recently using my own car, I thought about that lane-keeping feature in the Ford F-250 XLT a few times and even decided to stay an extra day at a hotel to make sure I wasn’t driving tired.
I had to wonder how this technology could become more advanced. Lane-keeping tech has been around a while, and I like that trucks are now benefiting from these advancements. Someday, trucks will also know what we’re hauling, if we’ve been driving for a few days in a row, and will detect when we are distracted. (Some cars already can detect head movement that indicates we are drowsy.) “You have picked up your phone, John” is coming soon. The vehicle will know if we do something that could cause problems on the road (for us and other drivers).
For now, lane-keeping tech that alerts us about when we have drifted a bit too many times is a step in the right direction. It works no matter which lane you use, and even if you think you’ve had enough coffee. When the truck you are driving is bigger than two passenger cars put together, it’s a smart addition and a safety advantage for everyone on the road.