Future Cars May Wake You If You Doze Off Behind the Wheel

June 1st, 2017 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Technology allowing vehicles to safely drive themselves is being developed, though it may take some time to perfect. While we imperfect humans are still driving, technology is in the works to determine if a driver is fatigued and, if so, to alert the person so he or she can drive without posing a danger. Kentucky’s roadways are under threat by those of us getting too little sleep and trying to drive too much during our semi-awake hours.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving resulted in accidents causing 824 deaths in 2015, reports the New York Times, though the actual number may be far higher. That statistic is based on drivers involved in accidents who admitted that they were drowsy; not included are drowsy drivers who didn’t survive the accident, or who were drinking or using drugs.

Several vehicle manufacturers, including Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, now offer drowsiness-detection systems that track a vehicle’s movements, including steering wheel angle, lane deviation, time driven and road conditions. If drowsiness is detected, a warning sound is made and a coffee cup icon appears on the dashboard.

Next year Audi will be introducing a car capable of driving up to 35 miles per hour without any driver intervention. When their Traffic Jam Pilot feature is turned on, not only will the vehicle be driving itself but it will need to determine if the driver is awake enough to take control after being just a passenger. That’s the job of the Driver Availability Detection system, which uses sensors to scan the driver’s head and face to make sure the eyes are open and the driver is alert before he or she gets control of the car again.

Technology that’s in the works includes:

  • Plessey Semiconductors has developed sensors that can be placed in a driver’s seat that monitor changes in heart rate. Software is being developed to find out if the driver’s breathing patterns are like that of someone sleeping. The company says this may be offered in vehicles in five years.
  • Bosch, a supplier of automotive technologies, is working on a camera-based system that monitors head and eye movements, body posture, heart rate and body temperature. If the system detects a drowsy driver, the vehicle could take over driving and pull over for an emergency stop.
  • Nvidia, a chip supplier for many auto makers, is developing the Co-Pilot. It’s an artificial intelligence tool that could learn a driver’s behaviors and determine if he or she is driving outside normal patterns. The system could learn a driver’s usual posture, head position, eye-blink rate, facial expression and steering style. If it appears the driver may be endangering himself or others, the driver would be warned or automatically driven to a safe area.

Drowsy driving may be a good area for technological intervention, because when we’re tired we don’t think straight. We make excuses for our bad habits; we think that we can make it to the destination because it’s not far away or that we’re not really that tired. The more tired we are the less likely we are to change our behavior.

Instead of all this expensive, complex technology, drivers could just sleep more and drive safer, but that’s probably too much to ask. Until that happens, this type of tech may end up saving lives and avoiding injuries, if it works as advertised.

If a vehicle equipped with these systems fails to wake the driver or pull over safely and an accident happens, the data on these onboard computers could help a lawyer show the driver was drowsy before the crash, making it easier to prove a personal injury claim. Though this may not be the intent of the technology companies, it may be one of the consequences.

If you or a family member has been injured in a vehicle accident in Kentucky, you can rely on the Julie Butcher Law Office, which has extensive experience handling the claims of those injured in vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we might help your family obtain compensation for your injuries.