'Smart' seatbelt aims to prevent tiredness related accidents
Since they were made compulsory in 1983, the seatbelt has arguably gone down as the most important advancement in vehicle safety, saving countless lives by pinning passengers to their seats in the event of a crash.
However, in its 29 years in use, the seatbelt hasn't really undergone much development, until now. A team of Spanish scientists is developing a new type of smart seatbelt, codenamed 'Harken', that can actively wake a driver up if it detects they are nodding-off behind the wheel.
The new device incorporates a sensor system that monitors a driver's heart rate and breathing. If the rate of either drops too much, a warning alarm will sound.
Jose Solaz, of Valencia's Biomechanics Institute, told the Daily Mail: "The variation in heart and respiratory rate are good indicators of the state of the driver as they are related to fatigue. Harken can monitor those variables and therefore warn the driver before the symptoms appear."
The system, which is incorporated into the fabric of both the seat belt and seat cover, is claimed to cancel out readings from the motion of the car, and will be invisible to the user.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), crashes that involve tired drivers are a whopping 50 per cent more likely to result in death or serious injury, as drivers cannot brake or take avoiding action to mitigate a collision, resulting in greater average impact speeds.
This is compounded by the fact that such collisions are most likely to occur on motorways and other straight, monotonous roads. Research suggests that young male drivers, shift workers and company car drivers are most at risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
A ROSPA spokesman said: "Sleepiness reduces reaction time, a critical element of safe driving. It also reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration so that the ability to perform attention-based activities, such as driving, is impaired.
"The speed at which information is processed is also reduced by sleepiness. The quality of decision-making may also be affected."