You’re driving the highway and don’t want to stop, but your eyes just aren’t cooperating. Drowsiness is a constant challenge, and you know it’s getting harder to stay in your lane. You’re not alone, as a AAA study reports that 40% of drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, while 60% of adults have driven while drowsy.
A major auto company is introducing an alert system aimed at helping those who fight driving-induced drowsiness, according to Jason Mick’s blog on Daily Tech. An option to be introduced on 2012 models early next year, this system has several components. The most dramatic feature is the “lane keeping” procedure. If the lane is well-marked and you haven’t turned on the turn signal, the computer will decide you’re losing control and take over the wheel. Similar to the way cruise control operates the gas pedal, the steering wheel will tug gently so that the car aims back into its lane, automatically. It will also provide alerts with gradually brighter displays and louder chimes, until it senses the driver is back in control.
Another alert feature vibrates the wheel until the driver responds. If the computer determines the driver is still having problems, it will get more annoying and actually tell the driver to get coffee, plus change the display to a coffee cup icon. The article didn’t state what the exact instruction will say. Presumably the voice will be different from your spouse’s or your mom’s, or other voices that most people automatically tune out. Anyone who has fallen asleep at the wheel only to be awakened by the sound of a police siren would probably jump at the chance to have this alert system installed. Being pulled over by a state patrolman doesn’t always end in a warning to stop for coffee at the next station or rest stop. The system, which has to be turned on to operate, could save lives, as it’s estimated that 17% of fatal crashes are caused by drowsiness.
What’s next? It’s not hard to imagine other developments beyond a “time to stop for coffee” announcement. Going beyond the GPS, and options such as Onstar and coffee shop apps for iPhones, a live or recorded voice could start listing the nearest coffee stops to your location. An auto-pilot feature could conceivably take over and actually take you to the next rest stop. But if lives are saved, who can complain? Remember to plan with a thermos of coffee, caffeinated soda, or frequent stops. But pull over to drink, since drinking while driving is illegal in many states. And just drive safe.