European project underway to monitor and legislate against driver drowsiness

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The UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) is working alongside the European Commission (EC) to develop critical regulation around Driver Drowsiness and Attention Warning (DDAW) systems – which are designed to monitor drivers’ levels of drowsiness and warn them when it is no longer safe to be at the wheel.

Research shows that driver fatigue is a contributory factor in up to 20% of road collisions and up to 25% of fatalities and serious injuries. In recognition of these alarming statistics, the EC is developing the technical requirements for a system which not only monitors drivers’ levels of drowsiness and warns them when they are drowsy, but also can monitor drivers’ levels of visual attention and warn them when distracted.

The outcome of this research has fed in the EC’s work on drafting the DDAW regulation, including in establishing the minimum performance requirements and a validation assessment method. Overall, the aim is for DDAW systems to be mandated on all new vehicles by July 2022.

Neale Kinnear, head of transport safety at TRL, explains: “Driver drowsiness and the wider issue of fatigue has been a long-standing problem across the surface transport industry for many years. Although the new drowsiness monitoring systems being deployed by manufacturers are a valuable addition in supporting a driver to stay alert whilst reducing the risk of incidents, it is critical that we standardise the accuracy and reliability of these systems to ensure consistency across the market.”

Thanks to TRL’s involvement, a new EC-approved approach to system validation has been devised. As part of the procedure, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must provide evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of their DDAW systems in detecting and alerting a drowsy driver. OEMs will receive guidance on what criteria must be met to obtain type approval, including illustrating that the system effectively alerts the driver at the moment, or prior to, a dangerous level of drowsiness – otherwise known as the DDAW threshold.

Kinnear continues: “TRL has a long history of helping the European Commission to implement safety measures through its evidence-based research and analysis. With the latest DDAW measures, we are continuing to innovate in the regulatory landscape and improve the safety of our transport systems.”

TRL have also been working on the preliminary analysis for the preparation of a Regulation on advanced driver distraction warning (ADDW) systems, which is required for conventional vehicles by 2024. These types of systems will monitor the driver’s level of visual attention to the traffic situation and warns them when they are distracted.

Dr Kirsten Huysamen, the Technical Lead for this work, explains: “The implications of our work in developing standards for driver monitoring systems should significantly reduce the occurrence of road accidents. DDAW and ADDW systems have a high potential of saving lives on EU roads; potentially preventing 16.9% of all fatal and serious injuries. Regulating systems that monitor and predict driver behaviour has never been done before and this called for TRL to develop a novel and innovative approach to assess and validate these types of systems.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs in charge of public agencies around the world as well as chairmen and CEOs of multinational transportation technology corporations. Tom's early career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).