2016 Honda Pilot: Numerous Forward Collision Warning False Alarms
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on July 28, 2016
The above photo is a fake. It had to be. It was made by merging a snippet of a Honda PR image with a shot of our own 2016 Honda Pilot's dash. I'm not stupid enough to venture into traffic in an attempt to trigger what Honda calls a Collision Mitigation Braking System with Integrated Forward Collision Warning (CMBS) for the sole purpose of taking a photograph.
Not that that would be a difficult task.
Some of the system's warnings are understandable in a world where play-it-safe engineering meets motorists that rarely adhere to the guidelines set forth in the DMV handbook. The computer doesn't assume that you've seen the shrinking gap and have a handle on the situation, so certain warnings come across as unnecessary, but I'm OK with that. And there's a three-position sensitivity setting — short, normal, long — that lets you attempt to match the warning sensitivity with your reaction time and driving style.
But there have been numerous absolutely false alarms in our Pilot. Three alone occurred some weeks ago on our 115.6-mile vehicle evaluation loop. All were triggered by fixed objects adjacent to, but not intruding onto, the paved roadway: a mailbox, a hedge, and a trash can out for pickup.
Things got even more "alarming" during my recent Oregon trip. The Pilot issued no fewer than a dozen false warnings during the 650-mile portion that occurred off the Interstate. That's an average of one every 54 miles.
Honda says the CMBS operates in three modes. Stage 1 consists of the flashing "Brake" warning, a series of shrill beeps and a high-frequency shudder in the steering wheel. It alerts you via three of your five senses: sight, hearing and touch.
If you don't react quickly enough, or if the situation arises too suddenly, stages two and three add varying degrees of automatic emergency braking, though I can't find a definitive description of the difference. I do know that most such systems can avoid collisions in situations where the speed differential is low, but can only be counted on to reduce the severity of high-speed impacts, which is where the word mitigation comes into play.
None of the false alarms I am talking about here went beyond Stage 1.
I was most troubled by a trio of alarms that happened about ten minutes apart over an arrow-straight stretch of Highway 97 in California. I was approaching the Oregon border at about 65 mph on a sunny, cloudless day. There were no oncoming cars, no trees, no telephone poles, no road signs, no anything that could explain them. The sensors reacted to an insect, maybe? I'd hate to think the system could be fooled so easily, but that's all I've got.
Four others occurred on a meandering, two-lane section of Highway 199 that connects the California coast with Grants Pass, Oregon. These seemed to be responses to oncoming traffic, usually RVs, but one was a garden-variety pickup. None was abnormally close to the centerline, and the trajectory of the vehicles — mine included — was utterly benign. Try as I might, I could detect no discernable difference, no pattern that could explain why a few vehicles seemingly triggered a warning while dozens of other large or high-profile vehicles did not.
The remaining five alerts fell somewhere in the middle. There were no oncoming cars, but the roads were not as treeless or straight as Highway 97 had been. Two of them only reached what I'd called Stage 0.5, with the blinking light and nothing else. I can't begin to say what caused any of them, but I can tell you this: none of them represented impending doom.
There is an off button, of course. I'd have used it, too, if I hadn't decided to start keeping track. I'd hate to think such a button is necessary, but its mere existence is an admission on the part of Honda that some folks are bound to tire of the false alarms and wish to turn it off.
Count me in that group. Based on my experience, I might consider leaving CMBS on when plying the freeways and multi-lane highways, but I'm pretty sure I'll routinely turn it off the next time I venture onto two-lane roads.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 16,844 miles