When Melbourne’s EastLink tunnels were closed for scheduled maintenance overnight in November, the tolled motorway’s operators were able to conduct the first demonstration of hands-free driving through freeway tunnels, using the lane keep assist function of a Honda Civic VTi-LX.
Although hands-free driving is not currently allowed on roads in the state of Victoria, the demonstration was able to take place as it was conducted through the EastLink tunnels under controlled conditions when they were closed to normal traffic. The demonstration was planned to help the road’s operators and the state’s authorities gain a better understanding of lane keep assist and other driver assistance functions as they prepare for the future widespread introduction of autonomous vehicle technologies.
EastLink selected the Honda Civic VTi-LX for the demonstration following its participation in the trials of the latest automated vehicle technologies that have been undertaken this year by the company in partnership with VicRoads, the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), La Trobe University and RACV. The new Civic includes the Honda Sensing package and is representative of a new generation of affordable vehicles equipped with a range of driver assistance functions, such as lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and road departure mitigation.
“The demonstration resulted from the Annual Victorian Self-Driving Vehicle Survey conducted recently by ourselves, in which more than half of the 15,000 respondents rated their awareness of self-driving cars as ‘very little’ or ‘none’,” explained EastLink’s corporate affairs and marketing manager, Doug Spencer-Roy. “We want to help motorists gain a better understanding of the latest driver assistance functions, and how they will evolve to make self-driving cars possible in the future. With driver assistance functions expected to improve road safety significantly, we hope that the demonstration encourages motorists to consider the availability of these new capabilities when choosing their next car.”
Spencer-Roy described the demonstration. “The Civic steered itself using lane keep assist mode along EastLink and through the tunnels at speeds up to 50mph (80km/h), while the driver was not holding the steering wheel. The lane keep assist function was not affected by changing light conditions during the demonstration, such as the transitions into and out of each tunnel portal. The demonstration showed that driver assistance functions in cars are rapidly increasing in quality and availability, which is paving the way for motorists to experience hands-free driving on freeways in the coming years.”