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Chicago Personal Injury Blog

Smart Seats Invented to Detect Drowsy Driving

by Jared Staver in Personal Injury

Drowsy driving is a serious problem in the United States, and it’s one that we’ve covered before.. According to the U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 100,000 crashes are caused by driver fatigue every year. In fact, at least 40 percent of these accidents caused by drowsy driving cause serious injury or death. It has become clear that something must be done to better prevent drowsy driving; however, this is a challenge, because often we are unaware of just how tired we are until it is too late.

Because of this, the EU has devoted serious resources to combating and recognizing the problem. Most recently, this project, known as Project HARKEN, has led to the creation of a sensor-based “smart seat” system that detects fatigue and drowsiness even before the appearance of more obvious symptoms such as yawning or poor driving patterns. The sensors are built into a specialized seat cover and connected seatbelt that measures body rhythms such as heart rate and breathing patterns. Since these change markedly as we become drowsy, the sensors can detect the change and warn the driver to take a break.

The sensors have been specially calibrated to filter out other factors, such as the movements of the car and short deviations in heart rate caused by other sources. Plus, they do not require even a single sensor to be hooked up upon entering the car. Assuming that the driver wears his or her seatbelt properly, everything should already be in place. This development is an important first step in creating systems that can prevent drowsy driving altogether, thus eliminating related accidents.

Other systems to prevent drowsy driving

The HARKEN system is the first drowsy driving detection system that can register risks before a person is experiencing symptoms, but it is not the only detection system currently in development. Researchers at Washington State University Spokane have recently patented a system that monitors wheel movements for irregularities and can issue audible warnings when drivers should pull over and rest.

Carmakers have been developing camera-based systems to prevent drowsy driving for several years. The cameras analyze eye patterns, such as how often you blink and how long your eyes close each blink, and combine that analysis with your driving patterns, such as drifting out of lanes and reaction to other cars, to determine if you are drowsy. The car then alerts you in some way.

High-end Volvos have a coffee cup icon on the dashboard that lights up. In Saabs, a vocal alert in the car announces, “You are tired,” followed by “You are dangerously tired! Stop as soon as it is safe to do so!” In other models, the driver’s seat vibrates to help wake the driver up. High-end Lexus and Mercedes-Benz models have already incorporated drowsy driving alerts based on typical driver profiles. This means that if you start driving in a way that doesn’t fit your normal driving behavior, the car will alert you that you are tired.

So far, only the most high-tech cars have drowsy driving detection systems, but as these systems develop and become simpler to implement, it is likely that we will see them as a standard safety device in all vehicles. It is exciting to see these devices developing, as about 25 to 35 percent of serious automobile accidents involve drowsy driving. How these types of technology are incorporated into American vehicles and to meet U.S. automobile standards is yet to be determined, but this should reduce accidents involving drowsy driving.

If you have recently been hurt in an accident, please feel free to give us a call. We offer free consultations with our Chicago accident lawyers to learn about your situation and help you explore your options.