Systems to tackle driver impairment and distraction

Impairment through alcohol, drugs, tiredness or poor health impedes safe driving. Distraction and general inattention is also a danger. Some aspects of impairment and distraction are possible to tackle to a degree through the use of technology. 

In a 2015 report[i] commissioned by the European Commission, the UK's transport research agency TRL examined systems addressing impairment and distraction and made recommendations regarding mandatory fitment. 

Driver Distraction and Drowsiness Recogntion (DDDR)
DDDR systems aim to detect the presence of fatigue or distraction and send a warning to the driver to stop and rest. Eye movements, including slow eyelid closure and rate of blinks, can be monitored by a camera pointed at the driver. This information can be combined with detection of wider head movements, such as a nodding head. Levels of heart rate and brain function are also possible to monitor. Systems monitoring people in such ways (particularly eye movements) and then issuing a warning are commonly available as an aftermarket product, marketed to fleet operators. 

Steering and braking patterns can also give some indication of inattention, and some new vehicles come fitted with DDDR systems that monitor these patterns and warn the driver.

The TRL report recommends that eye movement detection "has the strongest evidence base for real-time detection" of fatigue. It recommends that DDDR should be considered for legislation and that "further work [is] required to determine how to define and test effectiveness and to define what action the system should take if inattention is detected."

Alcohol Detection Systems 
Alcohol interlock devices are proven technology that can prevent the vehicle ignition from operating if a breath sample detects alcohol level is above a pre-defined threshold. Some countries have introduced laws requiring them. Countries including France, Belgium and Sweden require them to be fitted to public service vehicles such as coaches and school transport. In 2016, New Zealand made them mandatory for serious and repeat drink drive offenders.

In Britain, there has been voluntary take-up among fleet operators. Coach operator National Express has fitted them since 2010. 

The TRL report says: "alcohol interlocks can offer effective and cost-beneficial improvements to road safety, particularly for offender and commercial vehicle populations." TRL recommended that all vehicles should have a "standard interface" enabling alcohol detection systems to be fitted easily. 


End notes

[i]TRL, 2015, Benefit and Feasibility of a Range of New Technologies and Unregulated Measures in the fields of Vehicle Occupant Safety and Protection of Vulnerable Road Users


Updated: October 2016