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You’ve probably seen drivers who drift in and out of their lanes before, and everyone around them stays far away or off to the side to avoid an accident. While most of the time the careless driving is due to texting, sleepy driving has become a common cause of crashes and definitely should be something you look out for on the roads.
In fact, a surprising 20% of all car accidents involve a drowsy driver. The most susceptible people to drowsy driving are young male drivers under the age of 25, commercial drivers, and shift workers.
When a person drives while drowsy, the risk of causing a serious accident rises exponentially, since their reaction time, concentration and alertness decrease significantly, causing seriously impaired driving function.
For this reason, many car makers and independent researchers have been testing different technologies that could help prevent drowsy driving accidents, and one of the best potential solutions that have surfaced is being developed by the Biomechanics Institute (IBV) in Valencia, Spain. IBV researchers recently created a device that monitors cardiac and respiratory rhythms, so that it can help keep drivers awake and alert them at the slightest sign of fatigue.
The Technology Involved
The system includes sensors embedded into the seat-belt and seat cover, which measure the driver’s heart rate and breathing levels, along with a warning mechanism that warns the driver when it detects a significant drop in the measurements. This way, the driver can react in a proactive manner to avoid a collision. In addition to the sensors, the device comes with a signal-processing unit which processes the data provided by the sensor. The system measures the vital measurements in a non-intrusive way, and researchers say that the fully-functional model can be installed in any car. The device is covered with a material that cancels out the effects caused by vibration from inside the car and the driver’s movements.
José Solaz, the IBV Director of Innovation in Automobile Markets and Mass Transportation, said that the heart and the respiratory rate are the most telling indicators of possible driver drowsiness. “So when people go into a state of fatigue or drowsiness, modifications appear in their breathing and heart rate; HARKEN can monitor those variables and therefore warn the driver before the symptoms appear,” Solaz said.
So far, the system has only been tested in closed track tests, and researchers intend on testing it in real-world traffic situations soon. Solaz said that preliminary tests have shown positive results.
Like in the United States, driving fatigue is a serious problem that affects road safety in Europe. According to the eSafety Forum, in the EU, about 100,000 accidents a year occur due to drowsy driving, resulting in 125,000 injured people. Some 7,000 fatalities occur from driver fatigue-related accidents each year.
Factors that can contribute to drowsy driving include sleeping less than 7-8 hours a day, highway hypnosis, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and taking medicines that have a side effect of drowsiness.
Hopefully this technological solution will soon be a standard feature found in all new cars. If it works as well as it promises, this tech for tired driving will save thousands of lives every year.
DNews (Sep 10, 2014) – “How Can We Prevent Falling Asleep At The Wheel?”