CHICAGO — Federal safety regulators are cracking down on the problem of drowsy driving, calling "falling asleep at the wheel a recipe for tragedy."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that from 2 to 20 percent of annual traffic deaths are attributable to driver drowsiness or fatigue.
"We're going to develop strategies specifically targeting populations especially vulnerable to drowsy driving," said Mark Rosekind, NHTSA administrator, in a Monday speech to the Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities. "And we're going to comprehensively examine the role that driver aids, in the car and outside of it, can play — everything from high-tech solutions like computer algorithms that detect when you're getting sleepy behind the wheel, to old stand-bys like rumble strips on the road."
NHTSA will begin developing and testing public awareness campaigns, along with figuring out what legal and enforcement strategies are most effective.
Federal safety regulators have warned that shift workers and those with untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea are at risk for drowsy driving.
Automakers are beginning to address this problem, mainly with technology.
Mercedes-Benz features "Attention Assist" on vehicles including the S-Class sedan. This system can detect certain steering corrections that suggest the onset of drowsiness. If it detects driver fatigue, the system sounds an alert encouraging the driver to stop for a rest.
Edmunds says: A key question is how much these drowsiness systems add to the bottom line and whether car shoppers are willing to pay for them.