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Yawn detection system alerts sleepy drivers

Sleepy Driver

Sleepy drivers are responsible for at least 100,000 vehicle crashes each year, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But a new yawn detection system could warn drivers who are sleepy and prevent them from going off the road and possibly harming or killing themselves and others.

Drivers’ fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel are preventable and deadly serious events that happen to millions of people every year. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America survey, 60 percent of Americans have driven while they were sleepy, and 37 percent say they have fallen asleep at the wheel within the last year.

Sleepy driving is common among college students. In a report presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, the researcher Diana Dolan of Sleep Medicine Associates of Texas surveyed 263 students about sleepy driving. Seventeen percent of the students said they had fallen asleep while driving, and 2.2 percent had had an accident as a result. Of the students who reported having an accident, 67 percent said they had significant daytime sleepiness.

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A method that could alert sleepy drivers has the potential to prevent accidents. Such an in-car yawn detection system is being developed by a team of researchers from the United States and India. The system consists of a computer program that can analyze changes in facial expressions and movements and detect when a driver is yawning. The frequency of yawning is then correlated with fatigue behavior and can be linked with a warning system to let sleepy drivers know they need to stop driving.

Researchers have found that sleepy drivers tend to either underestimate how sleepy they really are and how it is affecting their driving performance, or they overestimate their ability to fight off sleepiness. In either case, they place themselves and others at serious risk. A yawn detection system could be helpful in reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by sleepy drivers. It is uncertain exactly when such a system would be available.

Sources: International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics, 2009; 1:89-109.

National Sleep Foundation
US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration