A new innovative tool is coming on the market that promises to help limit a major occupational hazard: driver fatigue. Following 10 years of research at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh-based Attention Technologies is
introducing its Driver Fatigue Monitor. It’s a portable device that can detect dangerous levels of fatigue up to an hour before drivers notice its onset.

The company says the monitor’s ability to measure drowsiness has been validated by lab tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The device, mounted on the truck’s dashboard, monitors the driver’s eyes with infrared technology, detecting when the driver looks away from the road or closes his/her eyes. An audible alarm sounds when the unit ascertains that the driver is getting drowsy. Visual feedback shows how long the driver’s eyes were closed and how far he drove in that state.

“Drowsy drivers often drive with their eyes closed for several seconds without realizing it,” says Dr. Richard Grace, CEO and founder of Attention Technologies, Inc. “Eye closures of three to four seconds are common.” A vehicle going 60 mph can travel 360 ft in four seconds.

A U.S. National Sleep Foundation report says “…people are often very poor judges of their degree of alertness. That means a person may not feel sleepy even if at a biological level their alertness is low and the drive for sleep is high.”

In researching and testing the Driver Fatigue Monitor, Dr. Grace enlisted the expertise of his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Computer Interaction Institute and at the university’s Robotics Institute. The technical work was sponsored and reviewed by the U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the DOT.

Field tests included one in Canada, where Vancouver’s Coastal Pacific Xpress tested 10 of the devices. Drivers drove round trips between Vancouver and Toronto, and nine of the 10 drivers said they liked the product. In fact, says Grace, two of the drivers refused to give the device

Driver fatigue is blamed by NHTSA for 31% of all truck driver deaths, not incidentally, and represents a contributing factor in as many as 30 to 40% of all heavy-truck crashes.

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