|With thousands of accidents caused every year by tired drivers falling asleep at the wheel, Ford’s new Driver Alert safety system could prove to be a genuine life-saver.
Ford’s Driver Alert uses advanced technology and sophisticated algorithms to analyse driver performance and issues a warning if the driver shows signs of drowsiness or erratic steering.
“Driver fatigue is a serious problem and one that can affect anyone,” said Ford engineer Margareta Nieh, who helped develop Driver Alert and is an expert on drowsy driver behaviour. “When drivers become drowsy they tends to drift off line as they lose concentration and then make sudden corrective steering inputs. What we’ve developed is a Driver Alert system that picks up on these erratic driving movements by detecting sideways yaw.”
The Driver Alert system comprises a small forward-facing camera connected to an on-board computer. The camera is mounted on the back of the rear-view mirror and is trained to identify lane markings on both sides of the vehicle.
When the vehicle is on the move, the computer looks at the road ahead and predicts where the car should be positioned relative to the lane markings. It then measures where the vehicle actually is and if the difference is significant, the system issues a warning.
“Let’s imagine the driver is tired, their concentration levels start to drop and the vehicle starts to drift from side-to-side,” Nieh said. “The software will detect this change in the vehicle’s behaviour, triggering a two-stage warning process.”
First a soft warning will pop up in the instrument cluster as a text message and will stay there for 10 seconds with an accompanying chime. If the driver continues to demonstrate drowsy behaviour, a hard warning will appear in the instrument cluster which the driver must acknowledge by pressing an OK button.
“If the driver fails to acknowledge the hard warning, the system can only be reset by stopping the car and opening the driver’s door,” Nieh said. “The system then recognises that perhaps you have changed drivers or that you have had a rest and can continue.”
Although Driver Alert’s camera is trained to look for lane markings on both sides of the road it will function if markings on just one side are detected. The system can be switched off via the instrument cluster.
“The technology is very clever,” Nieh said. “It’s been programmed to recognise intentional lane changing manoeuvres so it won’t issue a warning whenever you overtake, for example.”
Driver Alert is now available on the all-new Ford Focus and Ford Mondeo, as well as the S-MAX and Galaxy models. And with as many as one in five serious motorway accidents being caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, Driver Alert is one piece of smart technology that any driver could benefit from. As Nieh says: “This may be the most important wake-up call you’ll get in your life!”
Most likely times for sleep-related crashes
– On long journeys with monotonous roads, such as motorways
– Between 2am and 6am
– Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or taking even one alcoholic drink)
– After having less sleep than normal
– After drinking alcohol
– If taking medicines that cause drowsiness
– On journeys home after night shifts