Volvo has released details of another safety innovation - Driver Alert - which aims to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
Statistics show that driver fatigue is a major road safety problem across the world. For example, studies by the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University¹ show that driver sleepiness is considered to claim more lives on our roads than alcohol, and accounts for at least 10 per cent of all road accidents and up to 20 per cent of those on motorways and trunk roads. Similarly, on German motorways driver fatigue is thought to account for about 25 per cent of all fatal accidents², and about 100,000 accidents or 1,500 deaths a year in America³.
Volvo's safety engineers have developed the Driver Alert system after extensive studies and testing, both simulated and on a test track, into the way drivers react when tired. The system uses a camera installed between the windscreen and the rear view mirror, with a number of sensors and a processor, to constantly monitor the distance between the car and the road markings. If the vehicle is moving in an uncontrolled way, the system will alert the driver with an audible alert and message on the car's information display panel before he, or she, falls asleep. The Driver Alert system also works if the driver loses concentration for some other reason, such as focusing too much attention on the navigation system, audio system or children in the car.
“We have chosen to monitor the car’s progress on the road instead of steering wheel input or the driver’s eye movements,” explains Dr Wolfgang Birk, Driver Alert project manager at Volvo Car Corporation. “This gives us a more reliable indication if something is likely to go wrong, allowing the system time to alert the driver before it is too late. We do not monitor human behaviour - which varies from one person to another - but instead the effect of that behaviour - so there is less risk of false alarms.”
In addition, the Driver Alert system also uses a visual method to pre-warn the driver if they are getting tired and if their driving is becoming less controlled by displaying five illuminated stars at the start of the journey which slowly disappear if the driving becomes less controlled or consistent.
“Driver Alert should not be confused with Lane Departure Warning systems which alert the driver when a lane marker is passed,” says Dr Wolfgang Birk. "One crucial difference between the systems is that Driver Alert responds without any line having to be crossed," he continued.
“During our tests on simulators and in real-life, the Driver Alert system never failed to spot a driver who was falling asleep at the wheel,” says Dr Wolfgang Birk. “Nonetheless, we will continue to test and fine-tune the system before Driver Alert is offered to Volvo’s customers, but we hope it will be available within two years.”Published 2 December 2005