Falling asleep at the wheel causes 300 deaths every year on UK roads according to Department for Transport (DfT) figures, but Ford believes it has created a system to prevent it happening in future.
Available on the new Ford Focus as well as the Ford Mondeo, Ford S-Max and Ford Galaxy, the Driver Alert system is designed to warn drivers if concentration is lost behind the wheel.
The Driver Alert warns the driver with a noise when sensors on board the car pick up signs the driver is losing concentration and could be falling asleep while driving.
It does this by recognising when the car is being driven erratically by reading lane markings in the road ahead even if they are present on just one side of the road.
“Driver fatigue is a serious problem and one that can affect anyone,” said Ford engineer Margareta Nieh. “When drivers become drowsy they tends to drift off line as they lose concentration and then make sudden corrective steering inputs. What we’ve developed is a Driver Alert system that picks up on these erratic driving movements by detecting sideways yaw.”
The system first warns the driver with a ‘soft’ sound, but if the warning is not heeded, a pop up warning is displayed and can only be turned off if the driver presses a button.
If the warning, named a hard warning, is ignored, the system can only be turned off if the car is stopped and the driver door is opened – essentially warning the driver rest is needed.
However, Ford has confirmed the system can be turned off if necessary.
Systems such as Driver Alert and lane departure warnings were previously the domain of top level models or premium cars, but the need to improve safety in the wake of stricter EuroNCAP safety tests in the UK has seen the technology filter down to some of the more forward-thinking volume manufacturers such as Ford.