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CDC Says Drowsy Driving a Major Hazard- Here’s How Your Car Tries to Keep You Awake

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The display of a 2013 Fusion shows the Ford Lane Keeping System turned on

Ford’s Lane Keeping System, shown here in a 2013 Fusion’s display, is one of several automakers’ efforts to keep drivers awake and alert. The CDC says sleepy driving accounted for some 30,000 nonfatal and 730 fatal crashes in 2009, the last year for which data is readily available. (Image courtesy Ford Motor Company.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that says up to 33% of fatal car crashes involve drowsy drivers. Thank goodness we live in an age of increasing driver drowsiness detection systems in our cars. Here are a few examples:

Volvo’s Driver Alert Control (DAC) is most active on long, straight stretches of highway where drivers are more likely to become distracted or sleepy. Kicking in at 40 mph and staying active as long as speeds are in excess of 37 mph, DAC monitors the car’s movements and assesses whether the car is being driven in a controlled or uncontrolled way. It does this by employing a camera mounted between the windshield and the rearview mirror that constantly monitors the position of the car relative to the painted lines on the road. When the system determines a driver is at high risk of losing control of the vehicle due to sleepiness, it emits an audible signal, displays a warning text message in the information center on the instrument cluster, and illuminates a warning light shaped like a coffee cup as a reminder the driver might want to pull over for a power nap and some coffee.

Volkswagen’s Fatigue Detection System continuously monitors driver concentration level based on driver inputs and will emit both an audible and visual warning when drowsiness is suspected, much like Volvo’s system.

The Mercedes-Benz Attention Assist will keep an eye on your alertness by monitoring steering inputs via a a sensor coupled with smart software that uses 70 parameters to create a profile of a driver’s baseline steering style during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph (!), the system identifies the erratic steering corrections a driver is likely to make when drowsy, triggering an audible warning and a simple message on the dash: “TIME FOR A REST?”

Ford’s Lane Keeping System monitors the road ahead at speeds above 40 mph using a camera setup similar to Volvo’s to determine if the car may be headed for an unintentional lane departure. Based on the determined severity of the likely lane departure, the system will give one of three responses. In ascending order of urgency: (1) The steering wheel vibrates to simulate driving over rumble strips, a simulation effect for which electric power steering can be thanked. (2) The steering will actively nudge the vehicle back toward the center of the lane. (3) The vibration and the nudge are used in concert. Like all the other systems, Ford’s Lane Keeping System will emit an audible chime and visual alert to suggest the driver pull over and take a rest break.

These are just a few examples of automakers’ efforts to keep us awake behind the wheel, but remember this: The best driver alertness monitoring technology is pointless without a driver who listens to it. If you’re on a long drive and notice your car telling you to take a break, won’t you consider heeding its advice so you don’t become another drowsy driving statistic?

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