Falling asleep while driving - copyright:  Vadym Rybin

Drowsiness Severely Impairs Your Driving Ability

The roads are busier than ever and accidents happen at an alarming rate, costing thousands of lives every year and leaving millions more injured or struggling with lawsuits. Fatigue causes many of these driving accidents, especially on long highway trips.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) estimates that as many as 240,000 driving accidents each year are related to falling asleep behind the wheel. In a recent survey,
25% of participating drivers reported having fallen asleep while driving. 5% reported having had a crash due to falling asleep or being drowsy while driving.

The simple fact is, when you are tired, you cannot drive as well as you do when you are rested.

The Danger of Micro-Sleeps

In general, we think we can control when we fall asleep. But the truth is, sleep is not voluntary. When we are drowsy at the wheel, we can fall asleep and never even realize it. This is known as micro-sleeps. These brief naps when we close our eyes and doze off last only a few seconds. And we don’t remember them.

On a highway at 60 mph, these few seconds can be fatal.

New Technology

Thanks to technology, there are now systems that can warn fatigued drivers before they drop off to sleep, reducing the risk of driving accidents.

The Alertometer is an in-vehicle drowsiness detection system that uses a camera to capture images of the driver’s face and a microprocessor to detect slow eyelid closures. The automatic tracking system knows which eyelid closure patterns are normal, compared to those that may be due to fatigue. Whenever it catches your eyes starting to close because you are tired, the system issues a loud alert to wake you up, make you aware of the problem, and encourage you to take a break.

The Alertometer also learns your personal eyelid closure patterns over time, improving accuracy and minimizing false alerts. The developers understand that too many warnings – especially false warnings – will tempt you to ignore the alerts or even turn them off entirely.

The Delicate Balance

Notifying drivers of potential sleep hazards requires a balance between being clear enough to wake a person up and precise enough to only notify them when there’s a real danger.

Fortunately, technology is rapidly improving and the Alertometer is a significant step on the path to vehicles, especially trucks and buses, equipped with systems to track and analyze eyelid movements. In the near future, devices like the Alertometer could be responsible for making the roads safer and preventing many fatal driving accidents.

Whats on the DMV test?

Drowsy driving is a common subject on the knowledge test from your department of motor vehicles. DMV test question often refers to signs of fatigue and drowsy drivers and what you can do to prevent falling asleep behind the wheel.

Read more here: The Danger of Drowsy Driving

Photo credit: Vadym Rybin