How Driver Monitoring Systems are Enhancing Road Safety


A glance at the World Health Organization’s stats for road traffic injuries casts a somber shadow. Their official records indicate that approximately 1.9 million people lose their lives in road accidents each year. Additionally, road traffic injuries rank among the leading causes of death for children and young adults aged 5 to 29!

Yes, these stats paint a grim picture. However, if we take a step back and observe the initiatives taken around the world to reduce the occurrence of road accidents, we might find solace.

Global Regulatory Measures

The UN General Assembly has set its sights on halving the number of deaths and injuries from road accidents globally. Countries around the world are making dedicated efforts to achieve this ambitious goal.

EU nations, the US, and China are all at various stages of implementing regulations to mandate the introduction of driver monitoring systems in vehicles. Such systems are proven to be effective in preventing driver drowsiness and distraction – major reasons for these accidents.

A few years ago, driver monitoring systems were found only in premium cars as high-end technology. However, the current scheme of things has made such systems more common in mass-market vehicles, where they are implemented as an essential safety requirement.

How Does a Driver Monitoring System Work?

The ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) features in modern cars take the vehicle occupant experience to new levels. The driver monitoring system is part of the ADAS functionalities in a vehicle.

It consists of various components, including sensors, computer vision, and AI that detect the driver’s behavior and take appropriate actions. The primary sensor is usually a camera embedded in the dashboard or the steering column. The driver monitoring system may have additional sensors like steering wheel touch sensors.

Here’s how it works:

  • The camera captures the expressions on the driver’s face and tracks the movement of their head, eyes, and face. This data is used to form an understanding of how the driver appears when they are attentive to road conditions.
  • The Machine Learning (ML) algorithm within the driver monitoring system is trained to identify various other states of the driver, apart from the attentive state. This includes:
    • Drowsiness, where their eyes become narrow, or they blink more often.
    • Distraction, where they may be looking at a phone or turning to the backseat.
  • There may be various other signals that indicate drowsiness and distraction than the ones mentioned above. The ML algorithm is trained to detect all these signals and identify the corresponding state of the driver.
  • Whenever the driver is drowsy or distracted, the system sends an alert to notify them and bring their attention back to the task of driving. Alerts may be in various forms – audio, visual, sensory (such as vibrations in the seat), or a combination of these.
Driver Monitoring Systems
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Advanced driver monitoring systems are capable of detecting an emergency such as driver incapacity. In such situations, it can automatically apply brakes or even have some control of the steering wheel to avoid an accident. More advanced vehicles may have autonomous driving modes that are switched on in such emergencies, and the system can then slow down the vehicle or park it safely on the side of the road.

Driver monitoring systems are commonly used in fleets of commercial vehicles. Such systems enable the fleet manager to keep track of the drivers and ensure fleet efficiency.

The Future of Driver Monitoring Systems

Driver monitoring systems are becoming more “intelligent” and equipped with advanced capabilities. A range of sensors in the interior and exterior of the vehicle can collect data about the vehicle and its surroundings. Through the technology of sensor fusion, this data can be consolidated to derive insights into the position and state of the vehicle on the road, and the passengers inside.

The occupant monitoring capability of such systems can be useful in determining the condition of the backseat passengers or pets. If the driver inadvertently forgets an object in the vehicle while leaving it, an alert is issued to notify them of the same.

Driver monitoring systems may also be used for facial recognition of the driver and to incapacitate the vehicle in the event of a car theft.

These systems are evolving to identify different authorized drivers for the vehicle and activate personalized settings for them on the infotainment, HVAC system, seats, etc.

As vehicles move towards higher levels of autonomous driving, driver monitoring systems will be an inherent part of vehicle electronics. The technology bears a promise of enhanced road safety that the world is optimistically looking forward to.

-Leya Lakshmanan is the head of marketing at Embitel Technologies, part of the Volkswagen Group. Outside tech, she enjoys art and baking.

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