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NISSAN DEVICES COULD HAVE SAVED LIVES IN 401 FOG CRASH

TOCHIGI, Japan: The tendency is to view technologies such as adaptive cruise control as being either gimmicky, distracting or even downright dangerous if the driver cedes responsibility to such devices.

But on a sunny Sunday here at Nissan's test track two hours north of Tokyo, it takes no effort to see how such devices could actually have saved lives at that horrific, fog-bound crash on Highway 401 near Windsor in September, and in many other situations.

In fact, this realization actually saved me the effort of keeping my weary, jet-lagged open for a few moments as a cruised along behind another car as part of the test. It is just such moments of inattention in the real world that are the cause of much vehicular havoc, Nissan engineers had argued in a presentation before the event.

Errors of the "recognition" or "judgment" kind were involved in 74 and 14 per cent, respectively, of all the Japanese car crashes in 1997, the Nissan engineers reported, and they argued that there were technologies that could help with such problems.

It was testing such things as adaptive cruise control and "lane keeping" hardware that made it clear how useful they could be when you weren't paying attention for a few moments, inadvertently or otherwise, or when circumstances beyond your control suddenly appeared.

Adaptive cruise control keeps you going at a preset speed while using radar to keep track of the gap between you and the vehicle ahead and slowing you down if that gap gets too narrow.