Seeing Machines Unpacks Driver Monitoring Systems and their Impact on Safety.

It’s widely understood that fatigue and distraction are the two biggest safety risks for employees and businesses in this sector.

While a fatigued driver at the wheel of a passenger car can pose an immediate threat to other road users, their passengers, and to themselves, with commercial drivers, operating heavier and more difficult to manoeuvre vehicles, the stakes are even higher.

As some readers may already be aware, a proven solution to managing driver fatigue and distraction is the implementation of a Driver Monitoring System (DMS). But what exactly is a DMS? What are the different types of DMS and how do they work? And, most importantly, how can a DMS help reduce fatigue-related accidents?

Put simply, a DMS is vehicle safety technology designed to detect and alert a driver to dangerous behaviors such as distracted or impaired driving.

That said, it’s important to differentiate between an ADAS and DMS. With the continued introduction of new safety systems and automated driving features in vehicles, it is not uncommon for people to believe DMS is the same as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

However, while both technologies support driver safety, they serve quite distinct purposes. As the name suggests, ADAS is designed to assist drivers and enhance vehicle safety.

Evolving from the most basic of convenience features such as automotive transmission and cruise control, ADAS now support driver safety through collision warnings, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assistance to name a few.

ADAS scan the external environment for potential hazards such as pedestrians and other vehicles, warn the driver, and in many cases, interact with semi-autonomous safety assist features.

There’s another way of looking at it. Where ADAS is focused on the vehicle’s behavior, DMS focuses primarily on driver behavior.

ADAS can control the car’s speed and keep it within the lane, but only in certain circumstances. This technology is currently incapable of handling many of the situations that are encountered in daily driving. This is why it is critical the driver remain engaged and prepared to take action.

DMS is specifically designed to identify and prevent driver drowsiness, distraction, and other human states that can lead to dangerous or risky driving behaviors.

Using advanced AI algorithms, a sophisticated DMS can effectively monitor a driver’s engagement level, provide real-time alerts and help prevent accidents before they happen.

“It’s worth noting that these technologies are separate,” says Paul McGlone, Chief Executive Officer, of Seeing Machines.

“DMS can and should be used to complement ADAS to enhance driver and vehicle safety when fully integrated in the vehicle.”

But it’s worth remembering not all DMS are created equal. The two most recognized types of DMS are those that detect whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel and those that use cameras to measure driver attention and state.

Camera-based DMS (known as ‘direct’ or ‘awareness’ DMS) face the driver and monitor their head and/or eye movement to detect where they are looking. ‘Indirect’ (or ‘control’) DMS include systems that detect vehicle behavior (largely redundant in vehicles with ADAS) and those that detect the presence of hands on the wheel.

While a hands-on-wheel approach may sound effective, it does have a few notable downsides. Perhaps the most obvious is that just because a driver’s hands are on the wheel does not mean they are necessarily engaged with their attention on the road.

Torque sensors (commonly used in hands-on-wheel DMS) are very simple and easy to fool. Camera-based DMS can measure drivers’ visual attention states.

They can detect when a driver is looking at the road, when they are not, and the last time they checked it. “A driver with their hands on the wheel but their eyes off the road, is a driver who is woefully unprepared to take control,” says Paul.

“While it’s now widely accepted that camera-based DMS offers the best way to support driver attention, there are also important differences among camera-based DMS.”

Camera-based DMS can measure the driver’s visual attention state.

A major difference, according to Paul, is whether the system uses the driver’s eye or head movements to determine gaze direction.

A common misconception is that all camera-based DMS track eye movements to determine where they are looking when in fact, many DMS actually rely on the head pose. The head pose is often a reliable indicator of where someone is looking, but not always. It can be an unreliable indicator, particularly when it comes to one of the most common and dangerous distractions when driving — using a mobile phone.

Many drivers move their eyes independently to their heads when interacting with a mobile phone, which presents an issue for a DMS that uses only a head pose to infer distraction.

This is a reason why the safest and most reliable DMS are those that can detect driver eye movements in addition to head movements. To wit, DMS is key to reducing road-related trauma.

A DMS is as critical to safety as the three-point seatbelt implemented in the late 1950s, and random breath testing introduced in the decades following. Why? It is the only way to address, in real-time, long-standing safety issues such as distraction and drowsiness.

Using artificial intelligence, a DMS monitors a driver’s attentiveness and intervenes if it detects a fatigue or distraction event using visual, audible, or haptic alerts.

This technology is already being mandated globally. For example, Europe’s Vehicle General Safety Regulation (GSR) required all road vehicles from July 2022 to be equipped with new safety features, including an “attention warning” in case of driver drowsiness, among others.

It’s only a matter of time before Australia catches up. So while it may not be mandated here today, why would you wait to protect your fleet?