How driver monitoring is coming to every car

BY Chris Menon

17th Jul 2023 Motoring

How driver monitoring is coming to every car

How the new technology known as driver monitoring will change the future of motoring and car safety

Advanced driver monitoring is set to dramatically reduce the number of car accidents caused by driver impairment, fatigue and distraction as this cutting-edge technology increasingly appears in our cars.

Accidents caused by driver fatigue or distraction

Across Great Britain in 2021 a total of 18,045 incidents were cause by impairment, fatigue and distraction according to the latest figures from the Department of Transport, that’s one in five accidents. Yet most such accidents can be prevented by the use of the latest camera-based driver-monitoring systems that are being introduced by car manufacturers. This includes models from Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Volvo, Polestar and new entrants such as Fisker.

What are driver-monitoring systems?

Driver fatigue as man yawns at the wheelDriver fatigue is a dangerous issue that DMS could help solve. Credit: AndreyPopov

Camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) face the driver and monitor their head and/or eye movement using an infra-red beam to detect where the driver is looking. It doesn’t record the driver and act like a spy in the car, but in real-time warns if they are starting to fall asleep at the wheel or are distracted.

"Camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) face the driver and in real-time warns if they are falling asleep or are distracted"

It is being introduced as part of systems designed to assist drivers and improve in-cabin safety by car manufacturers. The main impetus in the EU/UK is legislation designed to reduce car motor accidents that has mandated their introduction across Europe from July 2024 in completely new car models, with all refreshed models requiring it from July 2026.

Indeed, from January 2023 Euro NCAP has been assessing new car models for their ability to measure driver distraction and fatigue/drowsiness as part of its Euro NCAP 5-star ratings.

Seeing Machines

An Australian company called Seeing Machines is one of the leading providers of DMS to car companies. Its focus on the behaviour of the human driving the car, so-called “human factors research”, has led to some of the most innovative and effective implementations of this technology in cars that are now appearing on UK roads.

Dr Kyle Wilson, senior scientist in the Seeing Machines Human Factors team reveals its aim: “It is important to ensure DMS supports driver safety by detecting when the driver is at risk but isn’t overzealous and frequently delivers unnecessary alerts—otherwise, drivers will not accept the support the DMS is giving and may become frustrated with it.”

BlueCruise technology

Ford Mustang Mach E interiorFord Mustang Mach-E with BlueCruise technology. Credit: Ford

One of the most proficient systems using Seeing Machines DMS is to be found in all models of the 2023 all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E as part of the latter’s BlueCruise technology.

Tom Leggett, is the vehicle technology specialist at Thatcham Research which evaluates such technology for car insurers. He explains: “BlueCruise allows the driver (only on motorways) to take their hands off the wheel, while the car maintains speed and keeps the vehicle in the centre of the lane. Crucially, to ensure safe operation—BlueCruise requires the driver to keep their eyes on the road. If the driver looks away from the road for more than five seconds, the system issues a warning to return their eyes to the road ahead. This is the first type of this technology permitted by the Vehicle Certification Agency in the UK, and without driver monitoring it would not be possible. We expect more of this type of technology to hit UK roads in 2024.”

"Effective driver monitoring has the potential to address a huge number of crashes and fatalities caused by fatigued and distracted driving"

Leggett stresses: “Effective driver monitoring has the potential to address a huge number of crashes and fatalities caused by fatigued and distracted driving, while also having an important role in preventing over-reliance on current assisted driving systems.”

Indeed, such is the importance of DMS to the Mach-E that it is intended to work even if the owner doesn’t take out Ford’s monthly subscription for BlueCruise.

Additional features

Of course, not all DMS are equal, while implementations will also differ, which is why future car buyers should evaluate different systems to find one that suits them. Indeed, car manufacturers are even pushing DMS providers to develop additional features beyond the central core ability to spot and deter drowsiness, distraction and impaired driving. This includes the ability to recognise if a phone is being handled, seat-belt status and cigarette handling.

For example, in the Mercedes EQS, EQE, S-Class and E-Class model series (if equipped with Hyperscreen, Augmented Reality heads-up display or 3D driver display), a DMS detects distraction and also imminent miscrosleeps caused by fatigue. An additional entertainment feature that Mercedes DMS also enables is that by monitoring the eye position, the 3D driver display can be adjusted, thereby enabling a 3D effect without 3D glasses.

The future

What’s coming down the road in the near future?

Leggett outlines where this technology is heading: “The future of driver (and occupant) monitoring is to not only to determine where the driver is looking, or how ‘open’ their eyes are, but to comprehensively understand the driver and how they are driving. For example, perhaps the vehicle will be able to adjust settings dynamically, based on how the driver is interacting with the vehicle, and by so doing enable a less aggressive lane support system when it detects that the driver is paying attention to the manoeuvre.”

"Camera-based driver monitoring is set to have as great an impact on car safety as the introduction of seatbelts did"

Moreover, the benefits of driver monitoring extend well beyond Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). For example, if the system can detect the position of the driver and passengers it could deploy airbags more effectively in the event of a crash.

Perhaps the last word should go to Kyle, as Seeing Machines is actively working with a number of other global car manufacturers to develop features that build on its state-of-the-art driver monitoring. “As driver adoption increases over time, accelerated by regulatory tailwinds, the optical and processing systems put in place can then be harnessed to offer a range of value-adding features to both the manufacturer, the driver and indeed passengers. This includes features based around convenience (simulating augmented reality using eye position), comfort (adapting the cockpit to the driver’s profile) and also extending the safety of other occupants in the vehicle. Moreover, over-the-air updates mean that these features can be sold to models already on the road.” 

Future Vision safety during autonomous driving diagramAutonomous cars and driver monitoring could completely revolutionise driving

Clearly, camera-based driver monitoring is set to have as great an impact on car safety as the introduction of seatbelts did. Moreover, it could also enable a far more entertaining journey for car passengers.

Banner image: BlueCruise technology in use. Credit: Ford

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