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Car Manufacturer Testing Vehicle that Measures Driver Stress

Behaviors such as using a cellphone while driving or driving while intoxicated are notoriously unsafe. But did you know that driving under stress can also put you at risk on the road? Studies show that stressed or anxious drivers fare much worse when it comes to being able to focus their attention on the task of driving.

For example, being stressed and anxious can significantly increase the length of time it takes drivers to respond to conditions on the road. By the time the drivers focus their full attention on the road ahead, it may be too late to prevent a potentially fatal motor vehicle accident.

In an effort to reduce the amount of vehicle accident deaths caused by stressed out drivers, Ford is currently researching and developing prototypes for a line of cars that would be able to determine a driver's stress level based on several indicators.

In order to prevent car crashes resulting from distracted driving, Ford's system would measure drivers' "workload," which refers to the amount of attention and input that motorists need to handle a car. When drivers have a low workload (when they are bored, for example) their inattention makes them more vulnerable to making driving mistakes. On the opposite end, drivers with many distractions have an extremely high workload and do not have the capacity to pay attention to the task of driving. Both of these scenarios can result in decreased driver performance and lead to serious accidents.

The cars that Ford is developing would alert drivers to their workload by measuring their heart rate and respiration levels through sensors built into the vehicles' seat belts and steering wheels. In addition, the cars would also monitor the drivers' responsiveness to road conditions through sensors that detect the flow of traffic and the steering position of the vehicles.

Ford is also addressing the problem of cellphone distraction while driving by testing a system that would keep handheld devices disabled through a "do not disturb" setting in the car.

While in some ways technology seems to have created a high level of anxiety and distraction in our lives, it has also allowed us to benefit from new innovations in automotive safety. With stress detection and "do not disturb" features being developed by automakers, safer cars may be in our future. However, it is important to be aware that stressed and distracted driving are still very real problems on our roads today and may continue to be if motorists are not pro-active about changing their driving habits.

Source: Washington Post, "Ford Developing Biometric Driver Stress Detectors To Improve Safety," Nelson Ireson, June 27, 2012

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