Driver-monitoring systems become more sophisticated in catching impaired driving

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“There’s a progression in the technology,” said Tom Herbert, product director at Veoneer, a Swedish technology company that will introduce a next-generation driver-monitoring system this year centered on human-machine interaction. “It’s about, ‘How do we improve the relationship between the car and driver, and what are the right pieces of technology to accommodate that?’ It really becomes more of a fusion.”

As the promise of self-driving vehicles for consumer use remains far off, improving human drivers could result in long-term safety gains. Automakers and safety groups believe effective driver monitoring paves the way for reductions in traffic deaths as systems safeguard against fatigue, alcohol and drug impairment and inattention. Moreover, driver monitoring offers an additional safety layer to a new wave of advanced driver-assist systems that enable drivers to remove their hands from the wheel — but not their eyes from the road.

These systems include Cadillac’s Super Cruise, which launched on the 2018 CT6 sedan and will expand to 22 more General Motors vehicles in the next three years. This month, Ford said it would bring a rival hands-free system called Active Drive Assist to the market, starting with the new Mustang Mach-E. Others developing driver monitoring include Veoneer, Australian supplier Seeing Machines and Israeli startups such as EyeSight Technologies and ADAM CogTec.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature has played a prominent, if inadvertent, role in driver-monitoring innovations. Tesla’s owners manual says drivers should always keep hands on the steering wheel, and the company measures torque on the wheel to ensure human engagement.
But the National Transportation Safety Board found in investigations of multiple fatal crashes during which Autopilot was engaged that solely using steering wheel torque was an “inadequate” method for determining whether drivers were attentive. Those findings have sent some automakers, though not Tesla, in search of driver-monitoring innovations that use cameras to keep an eye on driver involvement.

The market for driver-monitoring features, and the advanced driver-assist systems of which they are part, is set to grow. Global consulting firm SBD Automotive says 8 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. will contain a system with Level 2 automation by 2025, and 100 percent of those will contain a driver-monitoring system. For now, those systems remain in formative stages.

“There are lots of different flavors of driver-monitoring systems, but the ones we see in the industry today are all very, very basic, and honestly, not very effective,” said Alain Dunoyer, head of autonomous car research at SBD Automotive. “They’re more looking at, ‘How long have you been driving?’ rather than ‘How good is your driving?’ But that’s going to change.”

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