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Lawmakers believe vehicles should keep an eye on their drivers

Some vehicle features intended to make driving safer — lane keeping assist, automatic braking and adaptive cruise control, to name a few — actually make it more likely that a driver will succumb to distractions. These systems and others provide control that can seem as if the vehicle is driving itself. As Consumer Reports warns, vehicles are not self-driving yet, and they require an alert driver behind the wheel. 

After some high-profile crashes that may have involved disengaged drivers, lawmakers want the Department of Transportation to research and develop standards for systems that would monitor driver alertness and require these systems on all new vehicles.  

Current monitoring systems

Tesla and others do already have a monitoring system that requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. However, drivers have found ways to “trick” the system through clamps or other means of applying pressure. Experts point out that having hands on the steering wheel does not mean a driver is paying attention, and other methods are necessary to ensure attention. 

Some General Motors vehicles have a camera-based system that monitors driver engagement by head and eye position. Testing proved the system worked well even when drivers were wearing sunglasses that obscured their eyes. 

Automaker responsibilities

Since automakers have inadvertently encouraged distracted driving through the design and marketing of their driver assist systems, safety experts and legislators believe they must correct the confusion. When drivers do not respond to alerts and warnings to re-engage, vehicles should take corrective actions such as slowing down. In-vehicle cameras are also among the recommendations for fighting distracted driving. 

When someone is the victim of a distracted driver misusing technology systems, holding that driver liable for the damages calls attention to the need for greater oversight of vehicle technology.