We’ve talked about distracted driving many times on this blog and with good reason: the risk of a crash is 23 times greater if a driver is distracted. And, as cars get increasingly connected, the amount and types of distractions behind the wheel may only increase. But some car manufacturers are building in new technologies to help drivers stay attentive.

New cars from General Motors will detect distracted driving

Sensing technology is the key to many up-and-coming automotive features. In self-driving cars, for example, sensors and cameras help track the positions of other vehicles, pedestrians, and road hazards.

According to FinancialTimes.com, General Motors plans to turn this technology inward. As many as 500,000 new GM vehicles may feature head- and eye-tracking systems that can tell if a driver is distracted. Seeing Machines, an Australian company that makes devices that help detect driver fatigue, is partnering with Takata (a safety-product maker) to create these systems for GM. Using cameras that can identify facial features and head rotation, the devices are able to determine exactly where the driver is looking at a given moment. The driver will get an alert if they aren’t paying enough attention to the road.

Seeing Machine’s CEO Ken Kroger says the face mapping could also help prevent auto theft by confirming the driver’s identity.

News of these devices has already raised concerns about how the driver data will be used and stored. At the moment, the devices aren’t set up to keep or share the information.

Early-warning systems help prevent drowsy driving

When we think of inattentive driving, we tend to blame things like texting or breaking up fights between siblings. But many accidents are caused by plain old fatigue.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries are the result of drowsy driving each year.

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Auto manufacturers have already started installing in-car systems that can help detect sleepiness. Some Lexus models, for example, have a Driver Fatigue Monitor system that uses a camera to watch for drooping eyelids. And Mercedes-Benz offers Attention Assist, which measures 70 different variables to generate a driver profile and then watches for deviations (such as erratic speed or abrupt steering-wheel adjustments). If a driver appears tired, they’ll be prompted to take a break.

And, if researchers from Spain’s Instituo de Biomecánica de Valencia have their way, your seat belt may soon be able to gauge your alertness by tracking your vital signs. The HARKEN project uses smart textiles embedded with sensors that can monitor heart rate and breathing, both of which change when a driver becomes fatigued. An alarm goes off if the driver seems to be getting drowsy.

Avoiding distracted driving

We’re big fans of technology at Esurance, so we appreciate that manufacturers are spending time and energy finding solutions for driver distraction and fatigue. But, ultimately, it’s up to the driver. The best remedy for these dangers is to avoid texting or making phone calls behind the wheel and to get enough sleep (at least 6 hours the night before). On long trips, take a break every 2 hours or if you feel drowsy. And whenever possible, travel with a friend or coworker who can navigate, take phone calls, and help keep you alert.

If you’re an Esurance policyholder with a teenage driver, our Esurance DriveSafe® program can keep your teen from texting and driving. Plus, it provides information about their driving so you can coach them to have safer habits. Enroll today.*

*Subject to car and device eligibility.  Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.

Related links

Distracted driving – it’s worse than you thought

OBD-II: What it is and why it matters

Safe and smart | Smart technology

about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.