UM-Dearborn wearable tech research targets distracted drivers

As car companies race to produce cars that drive themselves, car accidents involving distracted driving are on the rise, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“You hear about how the vehicles will interact with each other and how the vehicles will interact with the roads,” said assistant professor Omid Dezhangi.

“But what about us, the drivers? How will we interact with these new vehicles?”
“My ultimate goal in my research is to create a proactive driver safety system, like an autonomous vehicle distraction alert system,” said Dezhangi.
Dezhangi turned his research on wearable technology toward the auto industry when he came to UM-Dearborn last year. He and his students are collecting information on what happens in the body while we drive. The use wearable tech to chart heart rate, blood pressure, muscle movement, physiological and neurological signals. Simultaneously, they collect information from the car such as speed, acceleration and the steering wheel angle.
Dezhangi’s study found that during non-peak driving times, drivers are more likely to be distracted.
“When we feel there is minimal risk, we pay attention to other things, like the radio, that text or daydream,” Dezhangi said. “This shows there is a proven link between higher distraction and less responsibility.”
So-called ‘self-driving’ cars won’t eliminate the dangers of distracted driving, Dezhangi said.
“Yes, in the near future, your car will do the driving for you. But there will be times that your car will need your help,” he said. “It will need to pull you back into the driving experience. But how distracted are you in that moment? If your car needs you to, will you be able to make a fairly quick decision?”
He says technology that can measure driver distraction could also take measures to “bring drivers back into the driving experience” when needed.
Dezhangi’s plans don’t stop there.
“In the vehicle industry, things are changing so fast. In the near future, we need to make these connections on a higher level by having our biological markers communicate with additional smart systems, like the other autonomous vehicles on the road,” he said. “With our research, we’re looking to accomplish that.”