PALO ALTO, Calif. — Daylight saving time came to an end on Nov. 6, which means more time spent driving in lower light conditions, precisely when the risk of crashes goes up. Each year, Nov. 6-13 is set aside as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week to raise awareness of an issue that affects millions of Americans annually.
The National Safety Council (NSC) has found that traffic fatalities are three times higher after dark because depth perception and peripheral vision is more compromised, color recognition is more difficult and the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle can temporarily blind a driver.
Each month, millions of U.S. drivers fall asleep at the wheel, a 2017 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found. An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days, and roughly 15% of all fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver, according to the study.
Even with high-beam headlights on, nighttime visibility is limited to about 500 feet (250 feet for normal headlights) creating less time to react to something in the road, especially when driving at higher speeds.
Enter a company called Nauto, which created a driver-centric artificial intelligence (AI) safety feature that’s being installed in cars and big rigs around the world to help prevent drowsy driving.
Company officials say that the AI triggers alerts in real-time to help drivers avoid collisions and self-coach, “dramatically reducing the frequency of risky behaviors that can lead to collisions.”
Nauto detects more collision scenarios and high-risk activities, such as drowsiness, with up to 99% accuracy, giving drivers as much as several seconds of extra time to prevent collisions, company officials tout.
Nauto CEO Dr. Stefan Heck said it boils down to saving lives.
“We want to add that extra level of safety on the roads,” Heck said, recalling a time when he was riding a bicycle and was nearly hit by an oncoming vehicle. “We believe in this, and we are continuing to work with manufacturers to get it installed in even more vehicles.”
Both the beginning and end of daylight saving time are accompanied by a 6.3% increase in fatal crashes, according to the journal Current Biology.
Part of the danger can be attributed to the body’s natural response to darkness, which naturally wants to wake up when it’s light and go to sleep when it’s dark. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that commercial drivers who operate vehicles, including buses, tow trucks and tractor-trailers, are particularly susceptible to drowsy driving — the dangerous combination of driving and sleepiness or fatigue.
Drowsy driving makes it difficult to pay attention to the road, slows braking and steering reaction time and generally impairs the ability to make good decisions in the same way alcohol does.
The exact moment that sleep overcomes a person is not predictable, but drowsiness is, Heck said.
Nauto’s technology sends an alert to the driver when he or she shows signs of drowsiness, including eyes closing, head drooping and more.
The technology does not have control of the vehicle and can’t stop it without the driver, Heck noted, but that’s something Nauto is working toward in the future.
“We are constantly evolving this technology,” he said. “It’s all about saving lives.”
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.