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Automated Driving 6 min read

The case for drowsiness detection systems

A male driver climbs into his truck at night.

As drowsiness detection systems become more commonplace, more automakers are using the latest technology to help make driving a lot safer.

It's no secret that drowsy driving is dangerous. Sleepy drivers have slower reaction times, impaired judgment and a decreased ability to focus. Recent statistics published by Itnux point to an alarmingly high number of trucks on the road with dozing drivers at the wheel.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, upward of 37 million drivers across the US drive tired every year, while the percentage of those who feel tired but choose to get on the road anyway is as high as 62%. To reduce incidents caused by less-than-alert drivers, recent advances in technology are increasingly focusing on driver drowsiness detection.

Who is most at risk?

Drowsiness detection technology can benefit anyone who operates a vehicle, including long-haul truck drivers, rideshare drivers, delivery drivers and commuters who have lengthy or monotonous commutes.

Long-haul truck drivers, for example, often spend many hours on the road, which makes them more likely to experience fatigue. Rideshare and delivery drivers also experience long-distance driving and even commuters with the daily obligation of driving the same routes are at great risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

According to Sleep Foundation, if you get behind the wheel after being awake for 18 hours or longer is legally equivalent to driving while intoxicated. And if the number of hours spent awake extends to 24 hours, the effect of sleep deprivation on the driver is the same as having 0.1% of alcohol in their bloodstream.

It's safe to say that anyone who experiences even a short period of sleepiness while driving can be a danger on the road. The good news is that drowsiness detection systems designed specifically to combat sleepy drivers are already available. And their advantages go beyond drivers — mitigating reduced focus on the road can provide an added layer of safety for everyone, including pedestrians and bikers.

How easy is it to detect drowsiness?

Not very. This is mainly due to the vast variety of reasons drivers nod off while on the road. The driver may be suffering from (one-off or chronic) sleep deprivation, medication side effects, or an underlying medical condition. And it's not just the cause that makes it tricky. Adding to the issue is the challenge of accurately assessing drowsiness symptoms, which can be subtle and vary from one person to the next.

Staying awake with ADAS and HAD

Despite all the challenges involved in accurately identifying a sleepy driver, technology is already stepping up to the task. Driver drowsiness detection solutions are becoming more accurate and reliable. And when integrated with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as collision avoidance and lane departure warning systems, these technological advancements can provide drivers with comprehensive safety tools.

Highly automated driving (HAD) is another solution that can assist tired drivers thanks to its ability to take over driving tasks when the driver is too exhausted. HAD systems have the potential to detect when a driver is losing focus and take appropriate action, such as notifying the driver to take a break or initiating a safe transition to autonomous driving mode.

Detecting drowsiness

How does technology help to recognize that drivers may need to take a break?
Steering behavior monitoring: using sensors to detect changes in steering behavior, audible or vibrating alerts will notify the driver if they appear to be drowsy.
Eye tracking: tracking the driver's eye movements with cameras and image-processing algorithms helps to identify signs of drowsiness.
Heart rate and respiration monitoring: by monitoring heart rate and respiration, these systems can determine if the driver is at risk of falling asleep at the wheel and issue an alert to help wake them up.
Brainwave monitoring: EEG sensors can detect brainwave pattern changes and provide potentially sleepy drivers with real-time alerts.

Safety first, but what about comfort?

Driving while tired can be as uncomfortable as it can be stressful. Drowsiness detection systems can help drivers mitigate both by providing them with alerts and recommendations to take a break and rest, reducing the risk of fatigue-related impairment.

To help new drivers stay focused on the road, Dreyev developed a driver app that uses HERE Live Sense SDK to warn drivers of hidden dangers on the road. The system is designed to mitigate distracted and drowsy driving and will warn the driver of other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists within their vicinity, as well as hazards such as potholes and construction sites.

HERE ADAS and HAD: improved safety and driving experience

Heightened awareness: HERE Hazard Warnings enable safer driving with alerts for road hazards, traffic, speed limits, cameras, stop signs and more
Safer journeys: HERE Lanes uses lane-level data to keep drivers on track in all conditions, with visibility into changes in curve, slope and lane lines even with sensor failure
Enhanced driving: HERE ISA Map improves safety, efficiency, and control with augmented speed limit alerts

The development of drowsiness detection solutions has the potential to significantly improve driver safety and reduce the number of crashes caused by fatigue. As the technology continues to advance and become more reliable, we can expect to see it integrated into more vehicles and used by more drivers to help prevent crashes and save lives.

Maja Stefanovic

Maja Stefanovic

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