Can "Intelligent" Seat Belt Help Drowsy Drivers?

New Effort to End Drowsy Driving

We have all heard about serious and fatal car accidents caused by drowsy driving. We all know how easy it is to become sleepy at the wheel, especially after a long day. It is very important to take measures to put an end to drowsy driving, and that is just what scientists have aimed to do with a new “intelligent” seat belt, according to a recent story in Car Connection.

What is an intelligent seat belt? Scientists at the Biomechanics Institute of Valencia (IBV) insist that applying “smart” technology to automobiles can decrease the number of deaths that result from drowsy driving. How does the intelligent seat belt work? The technology is called HARKEN, and it is a safety concept that uses sensors embedded in the driver’s seat belt and seat cover to monitor cardiac and respiratory rhythms. In other words, HARKEN is supposed to be able to detect whether a driver is beginning to fall asleep at the wheel. If that happens, HARKEN will have the capability to alert the driver that he or she is falling asleep, encouraging the driver to pull over or switch drivers.

HARKEN is currently in its very early stages, but the researchers at IBV believe it may be able to prevent automobile accidents and serious personal injuries at some point in the near future.

Drowsy Driving Statistics in America

While the IBV researchers who developed HARKEN have focused on drowsy driving in the European Union, drowsy driving is also a very serious problem in the U.S. A recent study reported by the New York Times suggests that nearly 5 percent of all drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the past month alone. That is about 8 million drivers across the country who have fallen asleep while driving in the last 30 days. That figure does not even account for the drivers who do not realize that they drifted off.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains statistics on car crashes and drowsy driving. The following statistics emphasize the fact that drowsy driving is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe and even fatal injuries:

  • About 2.5 percent of all fatal automobile crashes are caused by drowsy driving.
  • About 2 percent of all non-fatal traffic collisions result from drowsy driving.
  • Drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 have an especially high rate of drowsy driving. More than 6 percent of drivers in this age group have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
  • About 5.5 percent of drivers between the ages of 35-44 have admitted to falling asleep while driving, making them the age group with the second-highest rate of drowsy driving.
  • Male drivers appear to fall asleep more often than women. Approximately 5 percent of male drivers admitted to drowsy driving, while only 3 percent of female drivers said they have fallen asleep behind the wheel.
  • Sleeping fewer than 6 hours per night makes a driver far more likely to become drowsy while driving.

The CDC also emphasizes that the number of drowsy driving accidents could actually be much higher. Since methods of collecting data on drowsy driving cannot account for certain factors, some researchers believe drowsy driving could actually be a factor in more than 30 percent of all fatal car accidents.

What can you do if you get tired while driving? If you become drowsy while driving- you need to get off the road and rest until you are no longer drowsy. Help prevent accidents- never drive if you are too tired to stay focused on the road.

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