News

Toyota, Lexus Inch Closer to Autonomy with New Safety Sense

Lexus Safety System +A swerves to avoid pedestrian collisions

LOS ANGELES, California—Toyota is expanding its suite of active safety features for certain models by mid-2018, and an enhanced Lexus Safety System launching in February as an option package on the new LS will steer itself around pedestrians in certain situations.

They’re Toyota’s latest stepping-stones to Level II and higher autonomy coming early in the next decade. The automaker announced Tuesday it will make its Level II Highway Teammate system available on some Toyotas and Lexi in calendar year 2020, and a Level IV Urban Teammate system available a few years later, in the early ‘20s.

Highway Teammate will steer the Toyota or Lexus in its lane on a highway or freeway, and maintain proper distance from the vehicles ahead using full-speed range dynamic cruise control. It also will steer the car onto a freeway’s slow lane from the on-ramp.

The second-generation Toyota Safety Sense system, launching in the middle of next year on certain models, adds a pre-collision system with day/night pedestrian protection and day bicycle detection function, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane-tracing assist, road sign assist and full-range dynamic radar cruise control (except on manual transmission cars and trucks) with enhanced forward recognition and acceleration/deceleration.

The current TSS system already features pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist on certain models, auto-high beams and dynamic radar cruise control.

For the 2018 LS, the Lexus Safety System +A will emergency brake if the system detects the car is about to hit a pedestrian. If the system determines that the LS will not stop in time for the pedestrian, and that there is safe space in the car’s lane to swerve around the pedestrian, it can do so at the last possible moment “in certain situations.” The Lexus LS must be traveling between 35 mph and 40 mph for the feature to work.

The +A in LSS+A also adds a front cross-traffic alert, handy especially at blind intersections. Arrows pop up on both the head-up display (though you can’t see those, if you’re wearing polarized sunglasses) and on the center navigation screen. This system is only a warning, and will not brake the car.

Under LSS+A’s rear cross-traffic alert, however, the car will come to a complete stop if the system detects a pedestrian behind the parking space you’re leaving, whether the LS is accelerating, braking, or coasting.

LSS+A adds a fifth radar sensor and replaces a camera with a stereo camera. It will be a $3,500 option package available in February.

In demonstrations at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, LSS+A worked as advertised, though some journalists driving tried to react to the pedestrian dummy positioned for the pedestrian avoidance system. When LSS+A remained in-charge, the Lexus LS steered slightly to the left of the pedestrian while remaining in its lane.

Pulling on the steering wheel will override a last-minute attempt by LSS+A to swerve away from the pedestrian. If you’ve been ignoring first the audible warnings, then the hard braking when LSS+A detects you’re about to hit a pedestrian, it might be best to let the system decide where to steer.