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Do Not Disturb: How Your next Car Will Prevent Distracted Driving

We hear a lot about the dangers of distracted driving, but having a phone conversation while driving on a rural freeway is clearly less of a problem than dialing a colleague while turning left onto a busy six-lane avenue. What if your car could limit distractions when road conditions were genuinely demanding? This is the idea behind workload management, an area of intense research among most automakers.

It starts with determining when the driver’s workload is piling up. One way is to measure the driver’s heart rate and respiration using sensors on the steering wheel and seatbelt. Although accurately measuring these parameters is difficult, Steven Feit, chief engineer for infotainment research at Honda R&D Americas, says, “We can capitalize on the knowledge that the amount and speed of respiration is different for cognitive load and anxiety.”

Another way of determining driver workload is by monitoring inputs. “We determine the driver’s busyness by monitoring the frequency and magnitude of control inputs compared to a baseline,” says Dimitar Filev, executive technical leader in intelligent control systems at Ford.

Finally, these systems can also examine road, traffic, weather, and time-of-day information to infer when driving conditions are demanding and hectic. The ultimate determination of driver workload is likely to be some combination of these methods.

The outcome? “Many of our vehicles already have a do-not-disturb button,” says Filev. “This system might engage automatically during periods of high driver workload.” That means no phone calls or texts. “But interrupting a call would be going too far,” says Feit. “That could induce a driver to try to override the system—which would increase distraction.”

The research on workload management isn’t just about distraction, though. “When drivers are understimulated, they’re tired and bored,” says Feit. “On a long, straight highway, a phone call might keep cognitive level up.”

Filev adds that these monitoring systems might even reduce some restrictions, such as programming the nav system while the vehicle is in motion. Whether drivers interpret these computerized gatekeepers as a boon or a nuisance won’t be known until vehicles with such technology reach production at least two or three years down the road.


Csere, C. (2015, August 17). Do not disturb: How your next car will prevent distracted driving. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from Car and Driver, http://blog.caranddriver.com/do-not-disturb-how-your-next-car-will-prevent-distracted-driving/

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