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A Wake-Up Call from President Obama

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 07, 2015

President Obama’s appointment of Mark Rosekind to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was a wake-up call to the transportation industry...and Congress. Following closely on the heels of Congress deciding to suspend year-old rules for truck drivers requiring two nights of sleep before a work week, the appointment of Rosekind – an expert in pilot fatigue – was an incisive way for Obama to demonstrate, yet again, that he is anything but a lame, lame duck.

The decision by Congress ignored requests from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to preserve the limits on drivers. With the lapsing of the year-old rules, thanks to Congress, drivers will be allowed to work as many as 82 hours over an eight-day period.

NHTSA estimates that drowsy driving for all kinds of drivers and vehicles in the U.S. causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. The fatality rate is half the estimate for the number of distracted driving fatalities, but NHTSA says drowsy driving is underreported.

Nearly 4,000 people are killed annually in accidents involving large trucks, according to NHTSA. While the overall number and rate of fatalities declined in 2013 including the figures for incidents at intersections and involving alcohol-impaired drivers, the number of fatalities involving large vehicle collisions increased 0.5%.

NHTSA has conducted a massive amount of research on driver fatigue and it is clear that this research has immediate application in the large vehicle market. (NHTSA’s drowsy driver research can be found here - http://tinyurl.com/nsoj66x.) With Rosekind’s leadership perhaps NHTSA can not only advance the understanding and mitigation of drowsy driving in the large vehicle market but also generate insights with application in the wider consumer market.

Companies like Seeing Machines that are working mainly in the commercial market today, stand to benefit from the introduction of fatigue detection and mitigation systems for consumers. Seeing Machines is already working with GM and Takata on just such a system. This is also likely to be a rich target environment for app and device-based companies such as Anti Sleep Pilot.

In the end, Rosekind's appointment likely points the way to the wider deployment of cameras and sensors inside vehicles for identifying drivers, recognizing gestures and assessing driver attentiveness. The Rosekind appointment could well point the way toward new life-saving research and product development guidance from NHTSA.

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