► DS 7 Night Vision
► Useful assistance?
► Or a spec-ops distraction?
When you're driving at 30mph you're covering 44 feet per second. A miracle, frankly, that you notice anything at all at the roadside. And then the sun goes down, and many of the people and creatures at the roadside start behaving even more erratically than they had been in broad daylight.
So a little help might come in handy. The DS7 Crossback is available with a bunch of driver-assistance systems including Night Vision. The general idea is familiar, especially if you've driven a Mercedes S-Class in the last decade. But what's new is that it's fitted (as an option priced £1100-£1600, depending on which spec your car is) to a relatively affordable car, as part of a package of experience-enhancing and life-preserving features.
An infra-red camera mounted in the grille looks at the road ahead for about 100 yards and can display what it sees on the screen in front of the driver. Mostly it's greyed-out trees, cars or buildings.
Exhaust pipes, brakes and living creatures (over 50cm tall) show up lighter. But here's the clever bit. It's programmed to spot which of these living creatures you need to worry about. Most pedestrians on the pavement are either ignored or highlighted by a yellow rectangle.
If, however, they seem to be a likely hazard – perhaps because they're moving towards you, or lurching into the road, or because they're a child or a dog – they're put in a red box, or a red triangle, and heralded by a bonging noise. While kids and dogs get special attention, the system is happy to accept adults walking across your path when you're stationary at traffic lights, even if they're very close to the car.
Night Vision can be on or off, and if it's on it can be set up to provide a live stream in the instrument panel in front of you, or only flash up if it's got something for you to worry about. The field of vision is narrow, focused on road and pavement, so it's not alerting you to people doing night-time rose-pruning in their front gardens.
But it's remarkably effective at spotting adults, children and dogs at almost a football-pitch distance ahead of you, giving you time to decide whether any action is required. It's good at ignoring the glare of oncoming car headlights. And the driver is still very much in control – a red box doesn't trigger the car's emergency braking or take over the steering.
Spots hazard, sounds alarm, leaves the rest to you
1. Nothing to worry about
Most pedestrians are either ignored or put in a slightly spooky yellow box.
2. Red alert
Pedestrian stepping into road gets a red box but he's a good distance off.
3. Watch out!
Confused bloke with a death wish triggers visual warning accompanied by beeping.
Does it work?
Yes. Even in heavy rain, the camera was extremely effective at spotting things before I did, and the system seemed well able to judge the level of likely hazard. But the potential for distraction is high if you have the Night Vision screen on at all times. And although it will sometimes help, there are other times when you still don't have time to take evasive action.
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