Drowsy driving technology awakens

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New technology aimed to prevent car accidents due to tiredness. Courtesy of Stock Exchange Photo.

Drowsy drivers cause nearly 100,000 car accidents per year, according to the National Sleep Foundation, an organization dedicated to alerting the public to the importance of adequate sleep. Now, carmakers like Mercedes-Benz and SAAB have introduced high-tech systems to help prevent drowsy-driving accidents and even death.

NSF’s “Sleep in America Poll” found 60 percent of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy within the last year, and 37 percent admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel.

To help prevent drowsy driving, Mercedes introduced its Attention Assist system as a standard feature of its 2010 E-Class. The system collects data on how drivers normally maneuver the car, so when a driving pattern is deviated from, an alarm goes off picturing a cup of coffee and the question, “Time for a rest?”

SAAB takes a different approach with its Driver Attention Warning System, which uses an infrared camera to track eyes. The software analyzes the image and measures your rate of blinking. If eyelid and head movements suggesting sleepiness are found, a chime sounds, verbal messages play through the car’s sound system and the seat vibrates.

Danish company ASP makes the Anti-Sleep Pilot, a device drivers can mount on their dashboard to let them know when they are getting tired. The device is not sold in the United States just yet but may become available within the next two to three months, according to a Time magazine article.

Dave Klug, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and president of the Society of Automotive Engineers on campus, said he thinks the technology will become another standard safety feature in cars such as seatbelts and air bags.

Klug said the change will probably come when the price of the technology decreases.

A 2002 NSF poll found adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are much more likely to drive while drowsy compared to other age groups. Of the drivers in this group, 71 percent reported driving while feeling sleepy within the last year. This percentage drops to 52 percent for drivers 30 to 64.

Gus Lopez, senior in the College of Arts and Sciences said he does not think many people will want to spend the money to add the safety feature if it does not already come equipped.  Lopez said he thinks most people will not pull over if they are alerted to their driving but “it cannot hurt to have the technology.”

Patricia Novales, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, said she thinks the warning system could have little impact on how people drive.

“People just want to reach their destination,” Novales said.

Calla Schultz, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said she was skeptical on the effectiveness of such systems.

“When people are driving they are already in a mindset where they need to stay awake and the technology is not needed,” Schultz said.

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