Volvo Tests Distracted Driver Detection System

The automaker Volvo has started building test vehicles with safety technology that senses when a driver becomes distracted. The Volvo test cars are equipped with electronic sensors that use infrared light to determine where the driver is looking by monitoring head and eye position, according to a report at TwinCities.com. If the driver’s eyes are not on the road or if the driver looks out a side window or nods off, the car’s automatic safety systems may deploy.

The Volvo distraction monitor is a dashboard-mounted device that can be integrated with the car’s other crash-avoidance technology, such as automatic braking and electronic stability control, to prevent traffic collisions. The device does not record video, and Volvo said the device cannot be used for electronic monitoring of drivers and passengers.

The company is looking for other applications of the gaze-monitoring sensor device. For instance, engineers hope that the technology can help drivers with disabilities by using data it collects to adjust seats, mirrors, and possibly the steering column.

Volvo is also exploring sensor-adjusted lighting — the car would determine the driver’s height and gaze and then adjust its headlights automatically to maximize visibility.

Electronic sensor technology, GPS, and other devices gather data about users and their habits, and some consumers view connectivity as a mixed blessing. OnStar, for instance, has drawn fire because its modems sometimes continue to gather data about the location of a vehicle even after the customer cancels OnStar service. Facebook also attracted criticism from electronic privacy advocates for requiring some users to give the company permission to take partial control of mobile devices and to suck up data from the user’s account.

Volvo is trying to deliver a message to consumers that its new sensor tech does not create permanent records. It simply gathers data in real-time and delivers it to the relevant safety features of the car. Given the distracted driving epidemic, the device may have a lot to offer busy consumers who want to drive safely and would welcome some help in avoiding car crashes.

Distracted driving wrecks in Virginia and around the nation caused by looking at cellphones to text, email, or use apps could be averted if our cars alerted us of danger on the road ahead. “Too often people don’t realize how dangerous it is to look away from the road for just two seconds. It can be deadly,” says Janet Brookings, the president of Drive SMART Virginia. Volvo said it hopes to capitalize on public awareness of distracted driving and in the process save lives.

One potential drawback of Volvo’s device is that it does nothing to prevent cognitive distraction on the road. Even hands-free mobile devices can be a dangerous distraction. Nonetheless, Volvo said it is excited about the distraction sensor and the company can integrate the monitoring system with existing models so drivers with older Volvos can get in on the product. Volvo plans to roll out the distracted driving sensor after testing.

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