I’ll always remember the wintry night I was driving back from a ski trip with my brother. We’d been on the slopes all day and were tired, but wanted to get home. We had radio cranked-up, the windows cranked down to get a blast of fresh air and we must have stopped at least four times for coffee — all in the effort to stay awake and alert. All of a sudden we weren’t on the highway anymore. We were rocketing toward an old farmhouse at highway speeds. Thankfully we were able to stop in time, but it was a real wake-up call.
Today there are much more effective and sophisticated tools than rest-stop coffee to help distracted and sleepy drivers.
One of the most promising devices I’ve seen recently is the Anti Sleep Pilot from ASP Technology (available for preorder from antisleeppilot.com; $249). The 2.4-inch battery-powered device takes into account 26 factors that affect driving fatigue to figure out how long you can drive before taking a break. Your baseline is established the first time you use the Anti Sleep Pilot by completing a short risk assessment test. Questions include age, sex, number of hours you work per week, hours of sleep you get per night, whether you’re a new parent and your body mass index.
I took the personal risk profile test to see how I’d fare and was surprised to score a 2, which is fairly low risk. I was sure my 60-plus hour work week and 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night would do me in. But the Anti Sleep Pilot doesn’t rely on just your baseline score, because on any given day your level of tiredness could be different. So while you’re driving, the Anti Sleep Pilot monitors your alertness level by periodically administering reaction time tests. When you see and hear an alert you need to tap the Anti Sleep Pilot. If you’re too slow four times in a row —tests are administered every couple of minutes after a slow response — the device will suggest you take a break.
Lane detection and collision avoidance systems have been around for a few years now as options available on new cars. This year you’ll be able to get them on any vehicle — new or old — with Audiovox’s Driver Assistance Alert System.
The heart of the Driver Assistance Alert System is a small camera that is mounted behind your rear-view mirror. It continually monitors the road ahead to assess potential hazards. For lane departure, the camera watches the lane markers or lines along the side of the road. If you cross a line without putting your turn signal on, you’ll hear an audible alert, letting you know you’ve drifted out of your lane. The one limitation with this system is that it has to be able to see lane markers. If you’re driving on snowy roads, you’ll be out of luck.
The forward collision warning system monitors the distance between your car and the one ahead of it. Because the Driver Assistance Alert System is tied into your car’s electronics system, it knows how fast you’re traveling. If you’re coming up too fast and are in danger of rear-ending the car in front of you, you’ll get a loud auditory alert — a different sound from the lane departure warning.
The Driver Assistance Alert System will be available this fall for about $600 and will require professional installation.
We all become distracted at some point while driving, whether it’s the kids having a food fight in the back seat, an incoming text message or putting your morning cup of coffee in the cup holder. So while we are ultimately in control behind the wheel of our vehicles, it doesn’t hurt to have a gadget providing a little backup.
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