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The world is waking up to driver monitoring systems

·4-min read

Driver monitoring systems (DMS) are fast becoming the leading automotive safety system in the world. In the United States, rapid growth of Level 2 driving assistance systems such as General Motors’ Super Cruise and Ford’s BlueCruise are quickly expediting and greatly expanding DMS usage.

Driver monitoring systems use strategically placed cameras to ensure that the driver is paying attention to the road, awake and alert. The system is integrated into the vehicle and can be programmed according to a series of escalating actions, starting with a driver alert or warning and progressing to slowing or stopping the car if the driver is no longer able to operate the vehicle.

Across the globe, DMS will become a standard safety feature as soon as 2023. Provisions in the U.S. bipartisan infrastructure bill will require the Department of Transportation to begin making rules to stop distracted and drunk driving as well as update the U.S. New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). European standards, at first, will apply to distracted and drowsy driving. Eventually, Europe will require the systems to detect impairment to include alcohol and drugs.

These technologies can’t come soon enough. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving caused over 3,000 deaths in 2019, an increase of 10% from 2018. Drunken driving has increased, too. In 2019, 10,142 people died in drunken driving crashes. Early estimates from 2020 point to a 9% increase in DUI deaths. While many expected traffic deaths to decline during the pandemic, the opposite occurred.

The good news is that DMS is road-ready technology, already in use today. Every major OEM in the U.S. has plans to implement DMS soon. General Motors just announced its next-generation system, UltraCruise, which uses DMS to ensure motorists can drive when needed. According to GM, this Level 2 system will allow for hands-free driving in 95% of all driving situations. The current system, Super Cruise, is already being expanded across more vehicle models.

Worldwide, carmakers are also expected to rapidly increase the use of DMS in response to growing demand for driver assist systems and government regulations. A recent study reported that advanced emergency braking systems alone could reduce crashes in light vehicles by 33%. These figures are impossible to ignore. To place that in context, traffic deaths fell 29% in the 39 years between 1980 and 2019.

If we were to apply a conservative effectiveness rate of 30% and assume high levels of DMS penetration in the vehicle fleet to address distraction, drowsiness and intoxication in 2019, it is reasonable to estimate that up to 4,200 fatalities and 315,000 injuries could have been prevented. Even if we reduce the effectiveness rate to 10% and allow for a ramp-up to high levels of DMS penetration over several years, there remains a dramatic improvement to the prevention of road trauma.

Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) are often mentioned as key technological vehicle safety improvements. ADAS includes things like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, blind-spot detection and other types of crash-prevention technologies. However, these technologies work best when combined with DMS.

For example, a car using DMS in combination with an AEB system would know if a driver is distracted. In this case, the car can increase the distance before the AEB system starts to stop the car. Similarly, lane-keeping assistance can become more sensitive and take over more vehicle control when the vehicle detects a distracted or drowsy driver.

In 2015, U.S. automakers agreed to include ADAS as standard equipment by 2022. Euro NCAP will require DMS as part of ADAS beginning in 2023. Combining DMS with ADAS creates a truly robust vehicle safety system.

DMS utilizes a closed-loop system, meaning all data stays onboard the vehicle. The camera that monitors the driver uses advanced algorithms and technology to “look” at data points on the eyes and the face. No video is recorded, and the system is not in place to “tattle” on the driver; rather, it provides real-time assistance and should not pose any privacy concerns for consumers.

It’s not just government rules and regulations driving DMS. Consumer Reports, a popular trade publication that many consumers consult before purchasing a new vehicle, notes the importance of DMS in vehicle safety.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) understands the potential of DMS and has included recommendations to accelerate advanced safety technologies in its latest Most Wanted List.

Over the past year, DMS has emerged as the clear leader in new lifesaving technologies. The technology exists and is being built into cars today. The emergence of driver assist technologies and government regulations will further expedite the rollout of DMS. The implementation of the U.S. infrastructure package is critical as it could help ensure 4,200 lives are saved from distracted driving every year.

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