Volvo Will Be The First Manufacturer To Install Driver Monitoring And Intervention To Stop Drunk And Impaired Drivers

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Volvo will deploy cameras and other systems to monitor for impaired drivers and take action if impairment is detected.

Drunk driving and impaired driving due to drugs is the leading cause of motor vehicle fatalities in America and has been for a century. Automakers have the technology now to detect an impaired driver and take action to stop a vehicle being driven by an impaired driver and alert local authorities. And they don’t need a breath analyzer to do it. Volvo will be the first automaker to deploy such technology and plans to have it ready within five years.

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Technology To Detect Unsafe Driving

Volvo’s system will primarily use cameras. Eye movement tracking cameras to watch for an unsafe driver are in our automobiles already. Mercedes-Benz, Ford, and other manufacturers all have systems that use cameras to detect unsafe driving actions. Subaru has a camera system in its vehicles now that looks at the driver and can detect unsafe driver conditions. None of these brands presently offer an “impaired” driving prevention system. “When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” says Henrik Green, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo Cars. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behavior that may lead to serious injury or death.”

Existing Systems To Detect Unsafe Driving Behavior

Our vehicles today are equipped with many different systems that can detect unsafe driver actions. Nissan, Honda, and many other automakers employ systems that can detect a lack of steering inputs from the driver and if the driver does not respond, they take action. Nissan’s ProPilot system will even slow the vehicle to a stop. Lane keeping and sway monitors are already mainstream and in affordable cars now. Creating an algorithm that combines these already existing systems to detect a driver behaving in a dangerous manner would be possible if automakers wanted to create a system to do so. Volvo is just the first to step forward.

Volvo listed these examples of actions that such a system would detect:

– A lack of steering input for extended periods of time.

– Drivers who are detected to have their eyes closed or off the road for extended periods of time.

– Extreme weaving across lanes.

– Excessively slow reaction times.

“There are many accidents that occur as a result of intoxicated drivers,” says Trent Victor, Professor of Driver Behaviour at Volvo Cars. “Some people still believe that they can drive after having had a drink, and that this will not affect their capabilities. We want to ensure that people are not put in danger as a result of intoxication.”

The Vehicle Has Detected An Impaired Driver – What Next?

Detecting a drunk or impaired driver is just the first step. The second step is to make the vehicle safe as quickly as possible to prevent an accident. Current driver assist systems already have the ability to slow and stop a car. Both Subaru and Nissan offer such a system right now that will stop a car if a driver does not respond. Volvo says that its system will slow and safely park the vehicle. Volvo did not mention in its press release about the system the final step. That would be to use the in-vehicle telematics system to call local first responders and provide the location and description of the vehicle being operated by an impaired driver. Rather, it says its system calls the driver, and if he or she doesn’t respond, “sends further help if needed.”

NHTSA reports that drunk driving is a primary cause of accidents and automobile fatalities in America. The most recent data from NHTSA shows that about 11,000 people per year are killed as a result of drunk driving. By contrast, NHTSA says that the number of people in America killed as a result of cell-phone distraction is under 500 per year.  Distracted driving in its entirety kills less than a third of the people each year that alcohol-related crashes do.