One for drowsy drivers

You know how dangerous it is to drink and drive. What you may not knowis that it can be just as deadly to drive when you’re tired

You know how dangerous it is to drink and drive. What you may not know is that it can be just as deadly to drive when you’re tired — the reason for Mercedes-Benz’s Attention Assist.

Standard on the 2010 E-Class and S-Class, and likely to appear in other models in future, the system alerts the driver when it detects the early signs of drowsiness. It’s estimated that a sleepy driver is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes in North America each year. And while you may think long-haul truckers are the most likely candidates, they only account for about one per cent of those crashes. The rest are mostly regular drivers who got some shut-eye at the wheel.

“Mercedes-Benz wanted to develop a system unique to it and to the segment,” says Miki Velemirovich, E-Class product manager. “There are highly-detailed sensors that measure 70 parameters. In the first 20 minutes of driving, a profile of the driving behaviour is recorded into the management system.”

Once the system has “learned” how you drive, it continually monitors your steering inputs to ensure you’re not deviating from that. Specifically, it’s looking for something common to drowsy drivers: veering slightly off course, and then a small correction. This can indicate a driver who’s dozing off, who realizes the car is leaving its lane, and then moves the steering wheel to bring it back. Drive like this, and the system chimes to get your attention, flashing a large coffee cup symbol in the instrument cluster.

Attention Assist was developed in-house by the company, and uses a steering sensor and software to monitor drivers travelling above 80 km/h.

Mercedes-Benz isn’t the only manufacturer offering such a system. Saab’s system, called Driver Attention Warning, uses tiny infrared in-car cameras that focus on the driver’s eyes and measure the rate of blinking. If the driver’s eyes are closed for too long, the car emits a warning.

Velemirovich says that focusing on vehicle movement is preferable. “A camera can’t work if the driver wears sunglasses, or depending on the eye structure of certain people, it won’t detect it,” he says.