The technology against driver fatigue. We are on the way to a positive scenario, but first it is necessary to understand the dimension of the drama that we still live in our tracks. In most cases, sleep comes sneaky, shy, and disguised as subtlety. Quickly, it begins to take over the attention of those behind the wheel. Moved by haste or stubbornness, the driver tries to beat him, minimize him or deceive him. He opens the window, takes a sip of water and turns up the music in an attempt to ignore it. He tries to speak louder about the spirit of invincibility or the one who makes the frivolous calculation of ‘you can hold out until you get there’ or ‘just a little more’. The end of many of these daily and merciless battles is tragic. The irresponsible always wins.
Scenes like this find no borders, they are global. But Brazil is at a sad highlight in the world rankings. Fatigue deaths here help position us as the 5th country where people die from road accidents, behind India, China, the United States and Russia, according to a UN survey conducted in late 2019, before the pandemic. . According to the Ministry of Health, Brazil suffered almost 32,000 fatalities in the same year.
In this context, fatigue is the big bad of the national roads. According to a study conducted by the Brazilian Association of Traffic Medicine (ABRAMET) in collaboration with the Brazilian Academy of Neurology and the Regional Council of Medicine, 42% of accidents are related to sleep and 18% to fatigue. Taken together, 62% paint a complex picture of the scale of the problem and how fatal it can be to drive while sleepy or fatigued.
But this challenging framework has it all to be part of a terrible past if the trend of regulators to embrace technology as a preventative weapon is adopted by all governments of the world.
At the same time, the race to develop electric cars that are increasingly efficient and economical in terms of vehicle safety is also taking place. In the case of combating fatigue, fatigue detection technology tends to become global, mandatory, by implementing intelligent systems in all vehicles leaving the factories.
In the past, having a camera equipped with a sensor capable of signaling to the driver that he is sleepy or fatigued and that he is at risk of accidents was something only for mega-tech cars, a select range of the top lines of each car manufacturer.
Today the reality is completely different: devices are accessible, precision technology has evolved a lot and social pressure is starting to take effect for fatigue prevention to be democratized and available in all vehicles.
We know that investing in driver training is essential, but it faces structural barriers, as well as always having long-term effects. Requiring equipment to be mandatory factory standards means strengthening and accelerating life-saving changes.
This is what the European Union has done, which this year will oblige all car manufacturers to supply vans, cars, buses and trucks with a sensor that detects driver fatigue or distraction. The equipment is part of a package called New Safety Features in Your Car. According to the European Bloc, 90% of accidents are caused by human error and new technologies are essential to mitigate this challenge.
Europe sets a strong example and promotes debate in a global context. On the other hand, the automakers themselves are competing to choose the most efficient and safest technologies in healthy competition in which drivers will reap the greatest benefits. After all, offering a system with advanced sensors, which includes artificial intelligence and is also capable, for example, of generating reports transmitted to a mobile application, is something that adds to the brand.
Having the standard equipment in new cars is an advance, but there is still talk of forcing the installation into used vehicles, in order to accelerate the reduction of accidents, in the same way the mining industry does, where even fleets with older vehicles the systems have built-in sleep detection systems.
We know that, in itself, having the technology does not guarantee that the driver will not risk driving tired or sleepy. It is also debated whether to force these sensors to keep records of disobeying the warning. The artificial intelligence is already able to link this warning to a command that, for example, automatically reduces the speed of the vehicle in case the driver ignores the warning.
The trend is that technology is increasingly able to reduce the irresponsibility factor of those who get their hands behind the wheel. Sleep is inherent in any human being, but today we already have the solution so that it is not a threat to those who drive and who walk innocently on a sidewalk or close behind. By aiming at our eyes, a smart lens will not only turn on a warning but also prevent a possible accident by acting as a “standard guardian angel” within all vehicles on the planet.
Sidnei Canhedo is a biologist.