What are automatic lane-keeping assist systems and how do you turn them off?

11 March 2022 Blog

Find out how modern cars keep you on track… and how to take back control if they get annoying

Electronic driver-assist systems have become a key selling point for cars over the past few years, and a big step towards full self-driving technology. Lane-keeping systems are a crucial link in that chain, so what are they, how do they work, and how do you turn them off if you absolutely know you can do it better?

Lane-keeping systems wouldn’t work without electric power steering (older cars used hydraulic power steering) and cameras that scan the road ahead. The cameras keep track of road markings and monitor the car’s position in its lane, so that if a driver is distracted or tired enough to wander over a line, they can ping a message to the steering to warn you, or take evasive action. 

There are two key types of this technology. The first is Lane-Departure Warning (LDW), which makes the steering wheel tremble slightly and sometimes pings up a visual or audible warning if you start to cross a white line without indicating. As the name suggests, Lane-Departure Warning is just a warning, rather than an intervention. That’s where Lane-Keep Assist systems come in (often shortened to LKA, LKS or LKAS), because rather than simply warning the driver, Lane-Keep Assist systems gently steer you back into your lane a short time before you actually cross the white line.

Stay in your lane

In some cases, an evolution of this technology is used to keep the car centred in its lane, even if the driver lets go of the steering wheel – it’s often called Active Lane-Keeping. Just be aware that Active Lane-Keeping only allows you to let go of the steering wheel for limited periods of time – a green steering wheel graphic in the instrument binnacle will usually turn to red when it needs you to get back in control.

When Active Lane-Keeping is combined with adaptive cruise control, the car can do the vast majority of the driving, with the driver only having to touch the steering wheel intermittently – it can maintain a safe gap to traffic ahead, even stop in traffic and move away again, stay centred in its lane and – get this – change lanes if you indicate, all while using sensors to check it’s safe to do so. Bit spooky really. Naturally, we’d recommend keeping your hands on the wheel at all times – there’s no better set of sensors than the human eyes, ears and sixth sense for idiot drivers.

The problems with lane-keeping assist systems

Lane-keeping technology can be really useful and there’s clearly potential to improve safety, but it can also be unbelievably annoying and perhaps even dangerous – especially on narrower, twistier roads, or if you’re simply trying to give room to a cyclist or parked car. The good news is you can turn these systems off, the bad news is exactly how you do that varies from car-to-car, and from year-to-year, with the general trend being towards making the technology increasingly difficult to disengage.

In the simplest cases, you can turn off the lane-keeping systems just by pressing a button on the dashboard or steering wheel (typically a graphic of a car positioned between two lines), but often you need to dig deeper into the car’s infotainment system, usually under a ‘Car’ or ‘Settings’ sub-menu. Some cars let you permanently disengage the systems, others reactivate it every time you re-start. It’s a bit of a muddle.

Ultimately it’s down to personal preference and the car you drive, but there’s no question lane-keeping technology is here to stay – in 2022 it becomes mandatory for all new cars.

Find your next nearly new car (which will probably have lane assist) at Motorpoint.