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Snow, salt, and dirt pose the biggest dangers to driver assistance systems

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Winter can push driver assistance systems (DAS) to their limits. Dirt and snow can interfere with cameras and sensors – causing them to fail altogether in extreme cases.

Many vehicles nowadays are equipped with driver assistance systems, which scan traffic and help drivers in a variety of situations. These systems rely on cameras and sensors that can be impaired in winter conditions. Just like our own, the “eyes” of these systems have to be free of ice, snow, and dirt as well.

What problems can occur with driver assistance systems?

1. Parking assistant

Modern cars are often equipped with an active parking assistant, which functions on the basis of ultrasound. Ice and snow can distort the distance measurement function. The system always tells the driver that the remaining distance is smaller than it is, so that damage can be avoided in most cases.

2. Low beam

Many new vehicles have automatic lights, which come on at low beam if it gets too dark. In foggy conditions, however, the sensors for these lights don’t always function reliably and can be even more of a problem in heavy rain or snowfall.

3. Night vision systems

Night vision systems use thermographic or infrared cameras to create a schematic image of the area in front of a vehicle; newer systems also alert drivers to the presence of people in the area. These cameras are generally installed in the vehicle’s bumper and can get covered with dirt in bad weather.

4. Rain sensor

If your windshield wipers jerk into action for no apparent reason, it’s a sign that your rain sensor is covered in dirt. The sensor is usually located at the top of your windshield, right in front of the rearview mirror.

5. Reversing camera

Rain and snow can cover the lens of your reversing camera with a layer of salt or dirt, making the image displayed on the dashboard monitor appear out of focus. Another possible cause is when your car windows fog up when you drive from the warmth into the cold – a prime example of this is when you exit an underground parking garage.

6. Lane-keeping assistants and distance control systems

Lane-keeping assistants and distance control systems cannot function reliably unless the camera in front of the rearview mirror has an unobstructed view of the road ahead. So the same problems apply here as with a rain sensor – except that active driver assistance systems require a better-quality image than the ones that control windshield wipers.

7. Blind-spot assistants

Two different types of blind-spot assistants are in widespread use: camera and radar sensor technology. Whereas vehicles equipped with radar sensors experience fewer problems with dirt, the solutions using camera technology are more susceptible.

Most of the problems mentioned can be solved by simply cleaning the sensors or cameras. And we should also add that the car’s onboard computer recognizes potential DAS defects immediately and generally sends a warning to the driver.

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