New Auto Technology Can Tell When You’re ‘Driving While Drowsy’

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In the age of multilingual GPS devices, driver seat massages and cruise control navigation, it was only a matter of time before manufacturers developed drowsy driver alerts.

That’s right – technology to tell you when you’re in danger in nodding off behind the wheel, bringing you back to full attention through dashboard icons and warning alarms.

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This useful addition to driver safety is emerging in various forms and functions. Mercedes’ Attention Assist technology, which is standard on many models, at first seems to border on the telepathic. A head tilt to the left triggers a dashboard warning in the shape of a coffee cup and the words “time for a rest?”

In fact, it’s all rather rational. Mercedes’ on-board computers collect data indicating how you normally drive, and when you begin deviating from that, raise the alarm. Meanwhile Saab’s system relies on cameras to detect eye, eyelid and head movements suggesting sleepiness.

And then there are $250 dashboard devices, like the Danish-made Anti-Sleep Pilot set for U.S. release in the coming months which uses sensors charting 26 different factors to detect tiredness. Drivers using that product also have to tap the sensor every 10 to 15 minutes, with reaction times measured.

All this technology is aimed at reducing the number of accidents caused by drowsy drivers, which the National Sleep Foundation estimates at 100,000 per year.

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Joe Jackson is a contributor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @joejackson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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