(Another installment in our continuing series looking at how the cars of yesterday are being transformed into the driverless cars of tomorrow via the technology of today.)
Has this ever happened to you? You’re driving along, maybe at night, when suddenly you become aware that you are driving and for a split second are not sure where you’re going or how you got to where you are. It could be that you had a lot on your mind and were lost in thought. While this is scary, scarier still is the other possibility, that you have experienced a microsleep.
Experts Agree – Driving Is Better When You Are Conscious
A microsleep is defined as a brief, uncontrolled and unintended episode of sleep or drowsiness. These usually occur during a monotonous activity like driving or staring at a computer screen. These episodes have been measured to last anywhere from fractions of a second to nearly half a minute. When you consider that a car driven at 60 mph travels 8.8 feet every tenth of a second, there really is no telling where you might wake up.
Today’s piece of tomorrow tech is known as a Drowsiness Detection System. This system relies in part on information from a safety feature we have discussed previously, Lane Keeping Assist. If the onboard computer records that you are having difficulty maintaining your lane position, it may trip the drowsiness alert. Some cars keep a record of your driving habits and, if your direction or acceleration become erratic, this too may trigger the alarm. Some cars employ dash-mounted cameras fixed on the driver’s face. These cameras track head and eye movement, and if any nodding or drooping of eyelids is detected, the driver will get a warning. This warning is communicated with an icon (usually a cup of coffee) that illuminates on the dashboard along with the sounding of a buzzer or chime. In some models, the driver’s seat may vibrate as well providing an extra encouragement to maybe take a break. In the most advanced models, the navigation system will get in on the act and provide directions to the nearest rest area.
What to Do to Stay Awake
If you find yourself becoming drowsy behind the wheel, there are some strategies you can employ to get your head back in the game. For some, turning on the AC or rolling down the window for some fresh air seems to do the trick. Others crank up the radio and sing at the top of their lungs. Some turn to caffeine or peppermints. I once met a man who said what worked for him was slipping off his right shoe. He said that the feeling of the gas and brake pedals against the sole of his foot was enough to shake the sleepies off.
If you think you have experienced a microsleep, it’s probably safest to pull the car over, get out and walk around for a moment. This is the best way to evaluate just how tired you are without putting yourself and others at risk. If you determine that you are simply too tired to go on, find a secure location where you can, at minimum, take a power nap.
No matter what gizmos and gadgets your car has installed, the biggest safety feature is you. Drive wisely and stay in control. In this particular case, you may want to start by controlling your bedtime.