Werner's Blog — Opinion, Analysis, Commentary
Driver fatigue detection

While travelling through Germany with my little son the last few days, I had the pleasure of renting a brand-new Volkswagen Passat station wagon. When I was scrolling through the options in the car's control and navigation system, I was pleasantly surprised to find a feature I had not heard about before: a driver fatigue detection system, or "Müdigkeitserkennung" if you like long compound German nouns. Such systems are becoming increasingly common in European vehicles but have not made inroads into North American models.

Fatigue is blamed for one in five fatal collisions, as Transport Canada reports. Worryingly, about 60% of Canadian drivers admitted that they occasionally drove while fatigued. Symptoms of fatigued driving include: blinking or yawning frequently; closing your eyes for a moment or letting your eyes go out of focus; having wandering or disconnected thoughts; realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally; breaking too late; not being able to remember driving the last few kilometers; and drifting over the centre line onto the other side of the road. As fatigue is a common problem with driving, it makes sense to use a little bit of inexpensive technology to help drivers stay alert. Prevention is better than a collision.

Fatigue (or drowsiness) detection makes use of data from a vehicle's electronic control system. A fatigued driver's motor skills deteriorate and steering becomes less precise. Drivers make more frequent small and abrupt steering corrections. Software embedded in the vehicle's control system detects changes over time and notices if the number of small abrupt steering corrections increases. Additional parameters are taken into account as well—the time of day, darkness, and the length of the trip so far. If the values surpass a predefined threshold, visible and audible warning signals alert the driver to take a rest. Supposedly, the visible signal is a coffee cup. I haven't found out as I am studiously avoiding driving fatigued.

In some vehicles, fatigue detection systems are further assisted by lane departure warning systems, and even lane keeping systems. These systems can involve video sensors that look for the solid lines that border lanes, or sounds detectors for rumble strips. Such systems are becoming more common in Europe, especially on trucks.

Fatigue detection systems appear to be rather inexpensive; one source quoted a $30-40 range. The cost is mostly the monitoring software as the data that are utilized are already available from other vehicle systems. Even though I cannot base my comments on a thorough cost-benefit analysis, it sounds to me like a very good investment to make such systems commonplace in all new vehicles.

In the years to come, expect your car to monitor your driving behaviour. Your car will help you stay focused and alert. Now if you can please avoid that other sin of driving: getting distracted. Put away that cellphone, please. It's the law already in BC and elsewhere, but I still see many drivers flouting the law. A driver found using a hand-held electronic device while driving may receive a $167 traffic violation ticket that also carries 3 penalty points. Perhaps we need an electronic solution for this problem too: a distraction avoidance system.

Posted on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 01:30 — #Innovation | #Transportation
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