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Mercedes-Benz tech warns wrong-way drivers

Addition to existing traffic-sign recognition system detects 'Do Not Enter' warnings, but it's available only in Germany.

By Douglas Newcomb Jan 22, 2013 10:12AM

Mercedes-Benz wrong-way detection system. Photo by Mercedes-Benz.Germany has recently experienced a high number of fatal accidents involving drivers inadvertently traveling the wrong way, according to Mercedes-Benz. In just the past three months, more than 25 people have died due to wrong-way drivers.


The automaker says that wrong-way driving accidents are mentioned by the media only when they end in fatalities or major injuries, and that the number of "phantom drivers" -- or geisterfahrer, as they are known in German -- is much higher. The German Federal Department of Transport estimates that about 1,700 radio warnings about wrong-way drivers on German roads are issued each year.


To combat the problem, Mercedes‑Benz has developed a new traffic-sign recognition technology that can detect no-entry signs and provide audible and visual warnings to drivers when they enter the wrong side of the road.

The new feature will be added to the automaker's existing traffic-sign recognition system and will debut on the upcoming S‑Class later this year and the updated 2014 E-Class, which just launched in Detroit last week. Other models will follow, the company said, but for the time being, the system is available only in Germany.

Traffic-sign recognition technology isn’t new. It’s been available in Europe from Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Volkswagen for several years. However, since most European traffic signs are a uniform size and shape, the technology is more accurate than it would be in the U.S., where a car's camera would have to correctly identify a greater variety of square shapes. Current systems primarily detect speed limits, no-passing restrictions, turns ahead and school zones.


Like other traffic-sign recognition systems, the Mercedes-Benz technology uses a camera on the inside of the windshield. With the new added feature, it visually identifies no-entry signs and sends the information to the car’s onboard computer. If the system senses that the vehicle is about to pass a no-entry sign, the driver is warned with three loud beeps, and a red no-entry symbol lights up in the instrument cluster.


To increase the system’s effectiveness, the car’s computer compares the information from the camera with data from the navigation system that can sense where certain restrictions are in place. The Mercedes-Benz traffic-sign assistance system also detects speed limits and no-passing signs as well as signs indicating when these restrictions end. In bad weather, the system alerts the driver that it’s "temporarily unavailable."


The new wrong-way warning feature is initially designed primarily for use in Germany, but Mercedes‑Benz said it’s “working on adapting the system for use in other countries.”

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