RAC Cars News


The Sleep Sensing Seatbelt

By raccars Published

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A huge array of super clever new gadgets are constantly in the process of development in the auto industry. Many are aimed at providing an easier, more luxurious or more entertaining driving experience but arguably more important are those created to improve safety on the roads. A new smart seatbelt is currently in the works that really has the potential to save lives, by sensing when a driver is feeling sleepy and alerting him to the problem.

Scientists at Valencia's Biomechanics Institute in Spain are developing the new device, which senses sleepiness through heart rate and breathing measurements, using sensors embedded into the car's seatbelt and the seat itself on the driver's side. If the system judges that there is a danger that a driver is falling asleep, having recorded particularly low heart and breathing rhythms, it sets off an alarm to wake up the somnolent motorist.

The variations in speed of a person's heart rate and breathing are considered reliable indicators of the level of fatigue the subject is experiencing.

The technology, known as HARKEN, is pioneering in its field because it is able to disregard the motion of the vehicle and take measurements only of the human body, by using 'smart textile materials' integrated into the relevant seat belt and seat cover. These are made up of various fibres endowed with electronic properties, which can be knitted into standard seatbelt and seat cover material. The driver will not be able to feel or otherwise be aware of the presence of the material while driving.

Statistics from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents suggest that accidents attributable to drivers falling asleep at the wheel cause 50% more serious injuries and deaths, because sleeping drivers don't swerve or brake to reduce or avoid impact, leading to a higher impact speed. Excessive fatigue while driving impairs concentration and alertness and also increases reaction time, meaning drivers take longer to respond to emergency situations. Sleepy drivers are also at risk of poor decision making at times when a split second reaction is required.

Research also points to longer journeys on more boring roads, such as motorways, contributing to tired driver accidents. Lorry drivers, company car drivers, shift workers and younger male drivers are the highest risk categories for driver fatigue.

20%-35% of serious accidents are attributed to driver fatigue, leading to over 6,000 fatalities annually in Europe.

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