Splashing cold water on your face and drinking coffee are two ways to keep yourself alert when a long drive looms. Especially during the early morning hours when miles upon miles of dull sameness await you. It is at these slumberous hours when fatigue really sets in, increasing the likelihood of an accident with deadly consequences. Fortunately, drowsiness detection technologies are working their way into new cars and may one day save you from a catastrophe.
Identifying the Problem
Approximately 1 in 25 drivers have reported falling asleep while driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s just within a 30-day query window — the CDC did not inquire about earlier episodes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration paints a grim picture of just how deadly drowsy driving is, with tens of thousands of accidents occurring every year. It is estimated that as many as 6,000 fatal crashes a year may be caused by drowsy drivers.
The signs of drowsy driving are apparent. Typically, the driver yawns or blinks frequently and may drift from a lane and hit the rumble strip found on the sides of some roads. Other signs of drowsy driving include missing an exit and not being able to recall the last few miles driven. Drivers who don’t get enough sleep, who work late shifts, take sleep-inducing medications or have a sleep disorder are more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel than others.
The Auto Industry Responds
Safety is a huge seller of new vehicles, therefore suppliers and automotive manufacturers are racing to offer new technologies. Some of the systems are developed internally, while others are adapted from suppliers. Most utilize cameras, radar or GPS. Some automatically engage on ignition, while others require manual activation.
A basic drowsiness detection system typically works with lane-departure warning. With lane warning, your car alerts you every time you cross the center line or move too far to the right. Typically, a warning will flash in the instrument panel or head-up display. Sometimes, an audible warning is also issued. Virtually every manufacturer offers this technology across every model line.
Some manufacturers utilize a detection system based on an algorithm. For instance, the moment any trip begins, the system records the driver’s steering behavior and recognizes changes over long trips. It detects when the driver is hardly holding on to the steering wheel, as well as any abrupt corrections made, which usually suggest the driver is losing attention. The algorithm then calculates a deviation and alerts the driver. After multiple warnings, systems from Ford and Nissan light a coffee cup symbol in the dashboard, inviting you to take a break.
Subaru goes one step further with its DriverFocus safety technology available with the 2019 Forester. Here, the system uses facial recognition technology to pinpoint signals of driver fatigue or distraction and supplies both audio and visual warnings to inform the driver.
Building on lane-departure warning is lane keep assist. Here, once a vehicle detects lane departure, it automatically creates an input to steer the vehicle back to the center lane.
Take a Break
Although drowsiness detection technology is certainly helpful, you can do your part by pulling over when drowsy and taking a nap in a safe and secure location. Keeping your cellphone on its mount or stowed away while your driving can also help, as driving while you’re distracted and drowsy puts yourself and others at risk.
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