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  (Source: edmunds-media.com)
New cameras, gadgets and built-in systems attempt to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel

Summer is less than three weeks away, and many are beginning to plan vacations to their favorite destinations. Some prefer to road trip, and enjoy the thrill of ever-changing scenery as they drive from city to city, or even country to country. While many road trippers know to pack the essentials like clean clothes, bottled water and sunscreen, automakers and electronics companies have made a new road trip essential: gadgets that help you stay awake.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver's falling asleep at the wheel account for 100,000 U.S. crashes annually, 1,550 of which result in death. Clearly, fatigued drivers have become a safety hazard to themselves and others, and electronics companies and automakers are looking to change that.

New devices for keeping drivers awake range from cheap and easy solutions to high tech gadgets and systems built into vehicles. 

Some devices can cost as little as $10, and simply hook onto a drivers ear with the intention of waking them up with a loud sound or vibration if their head starts to fall forward. While the main advantage of this device is the low cost, the disadvantage is that the driver may fall asleep before their head dips forward, meaning that the warning would come too late. 

More advanced systems use cameras to assess whether a driver is getting tired or not. For instance, Mercedes-Benz utilized an interior camera system that scanned the driver’s eyes and determined if they seemed drowsy. The problem with a system like this is that accessories like sunglasses can skew the reader's assessment. 

Some vehicles have built-in systems to help keep drivers awake, such as the Mercedes E-Class and CL-Class cars, which have a system called Attention Assist. This program watches a driver's steering input at the beginning of a trip, and looks for erratic changes as the trip wears on. If any drastic changes occur, the system offers a warning sound and a visual saying, "Time for a rest?" 

The built-in system in the Volvo XC60 works similarly, but checks for micro-corrections in the steering after monitoring lane markers. The problem with systems like these is that they're too sensitive and many drivers turn them off because they "beep" too often and become annoying. 

The final contestant in the sleep-prevention line-up is the Anti Sleep Pilot, which costs around $179 and is the size of an Oreo. It collects information about the driver, such as age, sleeping habits, types of driving, etc. Then, the device is placed on the dashboard and presents a line of ascending lights that show the risk of the driver falling asleep based on the 26 fatigue factors collected from the driver. The driver sets a risk number on the device, and it calculates a safe driving time before a break is required. 

The Anti Sleep Pilot also chirps throughout a chirp, starting off as low, spaced-out chirps. The Anti Sleep Pilot can be silenced by touching the touch-sensitive device. As the drive wears on and the risk of fatigue increases, the chirps become louder and occur at shorter intervals. When the calculated break time arrives, the Anti Sleep Pilot sounds an alarm and the lights flash red.

The Anti Sleep Pilot may not be as high-tech as the others, but it is advantageous because it takes individual characteristics into account instead of a general audience, and doesn't have too much room for error. It is also available as an Apple iPhone app for added convenience. On the other hand, the chirps are a bit annoying after awhile.

No matter which system you choose, it's a proactive step toward safer driving experience for both you and other drivers on the road.





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