There’s a tech feature with the 2020 Dodge Durango SRT that really got my attention. It wasn’t the fact that the full-size SUV goes 0-60 in only 4.4 seconds (it has a 475 horsepower engine and 470 pound-feet of torque) or that it can tow a nice size fifth-wheel camper.
I was impressed by how the track mode shifts the torque to the rear wheels for better handling and also that the dual-exhaust in the back sounds like a snarling boar — a few people turned their necks to watch as the vehicle zoomed past in a blur of motion. However, I have tested that in many other Dodge cars including a few times on a track in Wisconsin.
Instead, what impressed me even more was a fairly loud alarm that sounds when you are not paying attention. During several tests on the highway, when I edged slightly out of the lane (both on purpose and inadvertently), the piercing sound really made me sit up and take notice.
I feel like it has come to this with vehicle automation. We live in a distracted world, especially now with COVID-19 and plenty of unrest in the world. I always store my phone in an actual storage compartment connected by USB, but not everyone does that. A few days ago on a road trip, I looked over at another driver who had his phone positioning right in his field of view, texting away like it was not a big issue. Yes, I honked at him, no he didn’t notice.
It’s hard to describe the lane-keeping alarm. I have tested around 700 cars in 10 years and this was new to me. Some do a soft chime, some beep, others flash the display and chirp loudly — this was more of a sustained tone like one of those alarm clocks at a trendy hotel. “Wake up now you dope” is what this tone seems to say, and I loved it. I wasn’t exactly drifting too much, and I noticed the Durango was tracking whether I had my hands on the steering wheel.
After a few tests trying to see how it all works, I was reminded of the time I was pulled over late at night in Las Vegas driving an Infiniti to test lane-keeping. A police officer pulled me over and we had a good laugh about it once he realized I wasn’t drinking and had swerved a little as a test a few times. (Fun fact that I have not had a drink in over 35 years.)
How does it all work? It’s all about the sensors. A camera in the Durango is constantly looking for lane marking and sensors know if my hands are on the steering wheel — plus there’s likely several other algorithms at work tracking how long I’ve been driving and how much the car is swerving. In the future, I imagine cars will connect to each other so they can even warn other drivers about my vehicle swerving a little too much. It was all mostly intentional on my part but I can really see how this would help someone who is tired or distracted.
There are times when it is not intentional, though, and that is because we are all human. Our thoughts drift to another topic, we get lost in conversation, or we notice something cool by the side of the road. COVID has caused a low-level stress to permeate and it doesn’t take much to start pondering how it will all turn out. Also, we can’t possibly pay attention at all times.
I liked how loud and constant the alarm sounded. I also liked how quickly the Durango turns off the tone when you do adjust slightly and get back to normal. It’s one of those features that stands out because it’s helpful on a daily basis and could save lives.