New Tech Could Keep Drivers From Falling Asleep At The Wheel

Not everyone has the luxury to work with a limo driver each week and relax in the back seat. The first limousine was invented in 1902 and it was not the long, stretched vehicle that we know today. The first limousine was built with a covered compartment for the driver who sat outside of the vehicle, ensuring the privacy of the passengers. For most people, driving is an everyday part of life. Driving while distracted can put your life in danger. Bosch, a German engineering and technology company, is looking to change that with a new camera monitoring system.

According to CNN, new safety technologies will soon become mandatory in new European vehicles as of 2022. Among these safety technologies is a new camera monitoring system that alerts drivers when they’ve become distracted or have closed their eyes at the wheel. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American spends 26 minutes getting to work. That kind of repitation can lead to distracting activity while driving.

The monitoring system uses cameras and artificial intelligence to detect when a driver’s eyelids are getting heavy based on their eyelid position and blink rate. The system can alert the driver, recommend a break, or even reduce the speed of the vehicle.

“Based on all this information, it can recognize if you’re getting tired because the frequency of your eyelids opening and closing gets much slower,” said Annett Fischer, the spokesperson for the Bosch interior monitor system.

Fischer says the system’s form of alert will differ depending on the automaker’s and the consumer’s wishes. The system can alert drivers using sound, light, slowing down, and vibrating the steering wheel.

Drowsy driving is a major safety hazard

Drowsy driving is more dangerous than many people think. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation has a similar effect on the body as drinking alcohol.

For instance, you’re considered drunk if your blood-alcohol level is .08. After being awake for 18 hours, your body performs as if your blood-alcohol level is .05. After being awake for 24 hours, your body performs as if your blood-alcohol level is .10.

Despite the dangers of driving drowsy, up to 60% of adults in the U.S. say they’ve driven while sleep-deprived. Approximately one-third of U.S. drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel.

Because movement gets the brain going by releasing dopamine, sitting behind the wheel of a car can make you more likely to fall asleep when you’re already drowsy. But it isn’t the threat of falling asleep at the wheel that’s the only danger of driving while sleep-deprived.

Both drowsy driving and drunk driving negatively impact how quickly you make decisions and make it difficult to pay attention to the road. Drowsy drivers don’t always brake or swerve if something happens in front of their vehicle, which can put their lives and the lives of others at risk.

Every year, there are approximately 6 million car accidents and over 5,000 fatal motorcycle accidents on U.S. roads. Nationwide, up to 6,000 fatal crashes annually are caused by sleep-deprived drivers. In Mississippi, over 3,000 fatal accidents involve a distracted driver.

Sleep deprivation is a growing problem

Unfortunately, new car monitoring technology isn’t enough to put a stop to drowsy driving. Sleep deprivation is a growing problem among U.S. workers.

Researchers from Ball State University found that one out of every three American adults isn’t getting enough sleep, a significant increase since 2010. The average person needs between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but many Americans are only getting six hours or fewer.

Professions with the highest rates of sleep deprivation as of 2018 include military, health care support, transport, material moving, production occupations, and police. There are nearly 18,000 police agencies in the country in which 50% of officers aren’t getting enough sleep and over 40% of medical physicians are currently experiencing burnout.

“Employers have a major responsibility and should use health promotion strategies to ensure that workers who struggle with sleep problems are assisted,” researchers said. “We all suffer when our bus and truck drivers, doctors, and nurses are sleep deprived.”

To help improve sleep quality, consider the following tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Create a sleep schedule and stick to it. A sleep schedule helps to regulate your body’s clock. This can help you fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
  • Exercise regularly. Vigorous exercise helps to regulate the body’s hormones. This includes melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. Just don’t exercise right before you go to bed. Too much activity can keep you awake.
  • Consider acupuncture or a massage. The World Health Organization released a report endorsing the use of acupuncture for over 200 symptoms, including sleep difficulties. Both acupuncture and massage therapy can help to improve blood circulation and relax the body, which makes it easier to sleep at night.
  • Use bright lights in the morning. Using a bright light in the morning and avoiding light in the evening can help to keep your circadian rhythm in check, especially during the winter months.
  • Wind down before going to bed. It’s recommended to avoid exercise and using electronic devices before bed because it prevents your body from relaxing and winding down for sleep. Give yourself between 30 minutes to an hour to wind down before going to bed.

“There is a need for increasing awareness and improving the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders,” said Ball State University researchers, “and there needs to be an emphasis on public education, training for health professionals, and monitoring.”

If you find yourself driving drowsy regularly or struggling to stay awake at the wheel, talk to your doctor or mental health professional about improving your quality of sleep.

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