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Wearable invention shocks sleepy drivers awake


Driver fatigue is a bigger problem than many of us realize (or admit). Even by the most conservative data, drowsy driving is a factor in thousands of car accidents that result in serious injuries and fatalities.

A group of civic-minded entrepreneurs has developed a wearable device called Steer that would use electrical pulses to jolt sleepy drivers who are starting to nod off at the wheel. It could literally be a lifesaver for people on road trips, for long-haul truckers, and for shift workers and other sleep-deprived drivers.

Device senses when driver is starting to get drowsy

Some truck drivers already use devices that are worn behind the ear and beep if the driver’s head nods when they fall asleep. But drivers may close their eyes with their head upright, and by the time the driver actually slumps forward It may be too late to avert an accident.

The Steer aims to predict when drivers are about to nod off. The gadget is worn like a wristwatch and measures both pulse and perspiration. A drowsy driver’s heart rate and sweat secretion slows down as they start to zone out. If the heart rate and skin conduction slows down a certain amount, the device vibrates. If the biometrics slow further, the device delivers an electrical impulse – not enough to hurt but enough to jolt the person awake.

Drowsy drivers are a public menace

The National Highway Traffic Safety Institute concluded that driver fatigue contributed to 72,000 crashes in 2013, including 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. However, drivers don’t always admit that they were drowsy or fell asleep, and many accident reports do not reflect whether fatigue was a factor. The actual danger may be much higher.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety dug deeper to get a better gauge on the hazards of drowsy driving. Their analysis estimates that driver fatigue is a factor in 6 percent of all traffic accidents and 21 percent of all fatal car accidents. That translates to more than 100,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths each year.

Every little bit helps

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), driver fatigue (a) makes drivers less attentive, (b) slows their reaction times if they need to brake or swerve suddenly and (c) interferes with judgment and decision-making – including the ability to recognize how sleepy they are. In other words, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving or texting while driving.

A wearable “shock collar” is no substitute for sleep. An electrical prod will only temporarily rouse a drowsy driver.  The same is true for caffeine, roadside rumble strips or turning up the radio. However, any combination that keeps drivers from drifting off or jolts them back to consciousness is welcome. Ideally, the sleepy driver will then pull over for a short nap or let someone else take the wheel.

Source: “Shocking device will keep drivers awake with an electric pulse”