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Driver monitoring central in push to eliminate distraction | Automotive World

Safety organisations are backing driver monitoring as part of the toolbox to eliminate driver distraction. Mike Lenné explores the logic behind this

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made Distracted Driving a top priority. In addition, the National Transport Safety Board’s (NTSB)s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements included ‘eliminate distracted driving’ on their list of 10 mode-specific safety improvements.  And this month, both the House and Senate introduced legislation that would require new vehicles to use advanced technology to stop distracted driving.  We could not agree more.

People are killed and seriously injured on roads around the world every day due to drivers being distracted and inattentive. Local and national governments, including those in Europe and Australasia, have recognised distraction as part of the ‘fatal 5’ road safety issues for over a decade. The World Health Organization and NHTSA recognised these risks in 2011.

With the automated vehicle market projected to grow to encompass ~85% of light vehicle production by 2026, DMS will be key for managing the human-machine interface and ensuring operator engagement and safety during driving

Traditional road safety countermeasures, including education and enforcement, have their place and are recommended strategies by the NTSB in its most wanted safety list. A role for vehicle designers is also recommended, which can still go further. What happens when, despite the best design, education and enforcement regimes, drivers continue to engage in distracting behaviours? These risks can now be reliably captured and actioned in real-time.

When it comes to real-time management of distracting behaviours, there is unanimous agreement that measuring drivers’ visual behaviour is a key approach. Furthermore, NHTSA work reviewing algorithms for detecting distraction recognised that all rely on the analysis of visual attention.

DMS installation rates accelerating

To this end, driver monitoring system (DMS) technology has evolved and is now widely available. DMS is being deployed at an increasing rate worldwide, with DMS installation rates projected to increase from 1% in 2019 to 71% by 2026. This rapid uptake of DMS is driven in part by recognition of the extensive safety benefits of DMS by regulatory bodies globally—driver monitoring technology has been mandated in Europe, and Euro NCAP is developing protocols to set the standards this class of technology must meet.

The push for DMS uptake is further accelerated by the increasing automation of new vehicles and the need to ensure the safety of both driver and the public when testing automated vehicles. In September 2019, following a number of automated vehicle crashes the NTSB recommended establishing “safeguards for testing developmental automated vehicles on public roads, including adequate monitoring of vehicle operator engagement…” With the automated vehicle market projected to grow to encompass ~85% of light vehicle production by 2026, DMS will be key for managing the human-machine interface and ensuring operator engagement and safety during driving.

When it comes to real-time management of distracting behaviours, there is unanimous agreement that measuring drivers’ visual behaviour is a key approach

DMS technology is mature and already in vehicles around the world. Camera-based DMS is used by trucking fleets to protect drivers, in real-time, primarily from distraction and drowsiness. The automotive industry is committed to using DMS as an enabler for assisted driving (L2 and above) to achieve enhanced safety and to power an expanding range of convenience features. Seeing Machines alone is deploying its DMS across production programmes with six major automotive OEMs, in Europe, North America and China.

The science is conclusive—ocular metrics hold the key to determining a driver’s cognitive and attentional states, which are needed to measure distraction. Automotive and trucking OEMs and operators are already investing significantly in camera-based driver monitoring. Camera-based DMS technology is mature, and is recognised as a technology that can have a massive impact reducing distraction-related crashes. The evidence supports groups like the NTSB in recommending that DMS be a recognised solution in helping achieve the goal of eliminating crashes due to driver distraction.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Mike Lenné is Senior Vice President Fleet & Human Factors at Seeing Machines

The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact [email protected]

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