No more nodding off
In the European Union (EU), 30 percent of fatal car accidents are caused by driver fatigue. In response, the Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia (IBV) – the Biomechanics Institute of Valencia – has come up with an innovative system, which anticipates driver fatigue in the vehicle, to prevent accidents.
CLAIRE RENCKEN reports.
This non-invasive sensor system, known in Europe as the Harken project, is able to measure the heartbeat and respiratory rate of the driver. According to José Solaz, the IBV director of innovation markets in automobile and mass transportation, “The variations in heart and respiratory rates are good indicators of the state of the driver, as they are related to fatigue. Harken can monitor those variables and, therefore, warn the driver before the onset of symptoms of fatigue.”
Until now, no system has been capable of measuring those vital constants in a car in a non-invasive way. The Harken device, developed jointly by companies, universities and technology centres, is an innovative solution, because it measures both variables – in a scenario affected by vibrations and user movements – by means of intelligent materials embedded into the seat cover and the seat belt.
“The system detects the mechanical effect of the heartbeat and the respiratory activity, while filtering and cancelling out the noise caused by the moving vehicle elements (vibrations and body movements), and calculating the relevant parameters that will be integrated into future fatigue or somnolence detectors,” Solaz explains.
The system is based on three main components: the seat sensor, the seat belt sensor and the signal-processing unit (SPU) that processes the sensor data in real-time.
Solaz goes on to say: “The device has been tested by users in closed-track tests, in order to prove its effectiveness under real-life conditions”. Preliminary tests have had positive and reliable results. The project will soon be allowed to have vehicles on the road, in order to run tests in actual traffic scenarios.
Traffic accidents caused by fatigue are a significant problem in the EU. Fatigue detectors inside vehicles may, therefore, save thousands of lives per year, as well as many millions of euros in health costs.
The same applies in South Africa. So, the sooner this kind of technology reaches our shores, the better. In the meantime, what can drivers do to prevent tiredness from making them another crash statistic?
For starters, get enough sleep the night before a long trip – at least six hours is recommended. Wear good-quality sunglasses, avoid heavy foods and, of course, don’t consume any alcohol during your trip. If you can, have another person ride with you, so that you will have someone to talk to who can also share the driving.
Be on the alert for these signs of sleepiness: trouble keeping your eyes open, difficulty paying attention, or yawning frequently. If you notice any of these danger signs, stop periodically for a rest, and if needed, a quick nap – even 20 minutes will help. During your break, get some exercise; it helps you become more alert, quickly.
The problem with long-distance driving is that many people do not know (or choose to ignore) how much driving is too much. On long trips, schedule a 15-minute break outside the vehicle every two hours or every 160 km. There is no set rule that stipulates how far you should drive at any given time, but no destination is worth risking your life. Don’t overextend yourself. Determine a reasonable distance in advance, and stop driving when you reach it.
If you stop for a rest, choose a designated rest area or parking lot. It is usually not advisable to just pull off to the side of the road to sleep, yet there may be times when it is better to pull off the road and nap, than to continue driving and chance falling asleep behind the wheel.
You could be suffering from driver fatigue if:
• Your eyes go out of focus by themselves and you battle to see properly;
• You have trouble keeping your head up;
• You can’t stop yawning;
• You can’t concentrate and you lose track of time.
• You battle to keep an even speed and keep drifting out of your lane;
• You don’t remember driving the last few miles;
• You miss the highway off-ramp that you are supposed to take.
Fuchs Lubricants commits to collection of used oils
Fuchs Lubricants, in partnership with the Rose Foundation, has committed to collect at least
80 percent of its collectable used oil from customers in the mining, automotive, industrial and related sectors.
John Anderson, automotive original equipment manufacturer manager, Fuchs Lubricants, says: “Our aim is to create awareness that used oil is hazardous, but is also a recyclable resource. We want to influence customer behaviour in the handling and disposal of used oil through educational and marketing campaigns.
We are developing synergistic, stable and sustainable partnerships with groups that have similar objectives, and in the process we are raising awareness of the Rose Foundation’s efforts and initiatives within member companies. This will enable the role of the National Oil Recycling Association of South Africa (Nora-SA) to be clearly communicated and understood.”
Fuchs Lubricants is also considering investing in the improved handling of various used-oil containers at collector and bulking facilities, to increase the volumes collected.