Weapons of Mass Distraction

With an alarming surge of nearly nine per cent in heavy vehicle related fatalities last year nationally, technology company, Seeing Machines, is determined to one day achieve zero transport fatalities worldwide and a new study is helping it get the point across.
Driver distraction and fatigue can be monitored to reduce accidents.

A first-of-its-kind study has uncovered staggering statistics, showing a raft of risky behaviours across almost 2,500 Australian and New Zealand fleets over a 12-month period.

The reality of these figures was made possible thanks to Canberra-founded, Driver Monitoring System technology company, Seeing Machines, which is already saving lives on the road with its leading technology, installed in more than one million passenger and commercial vehicles globally.

Spurred by a report from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator showing 182 fatalities from heavy vehicle accidents in 2022, Seeing Machines was especially concerned about the fact that driver distraction contributed to 71 per cent of those accidents.

The company’s inaugural study was conducted using its flagship product, Guardian, a driver fatigue and distraction monitoring system that uses artificial intelligence to detect early signs of driver impairment and provide real-time intervention.

Titled 2022-23 Guardian Insights, the report focuses on Australia and New Zealand, extrapolating data from over 20,000 vehicles from thousands of fleets for the 12-month period to 30 September 2023.

This data, processed through Guardian Live and verified by human analysts, enabled Seeing Machines to identify risky driving habits, which the company believes is an essential stride in its fight to mitigate preventable accidents.

At a glance, Guardian captured more than one million risky driving events throughout the reporting period. This included a significant number of fatigue events and even more distracted driving events, of which around 10 per cent indicated instances of mobile phone use.

In fact, the company says, mobile phone use may be higher as this classification can only be reported where a mobile phone is visible in the video frame of footage captured.

Paul McGlone, Seeing Machines CEO, says being able to take a deep dive into driver behaviour and what influences it offers priceless data.

“This report demonstrates how, with our proven Guardian technology, we continue to work towards our vision of zero road fatalities, by shedding light on the insights and performance data that influence driver and fleet behaviour,” he says.

The data showed, over the course of the study, that there were significantly more distracted driving events compared to instances of fatigue. The data in the report has also identified times of day where drivers are most distracted, and the times when they appear more focused.

Mobile phone use is one of the many causes of driver distraction.
Mobile phone use is one of the many causes of driver distraction.

Based on total events captured, the report is also able to identify which day had the highest number of distracted driving incidents.

These trends, while general, could provide fleet managers insights into their own scheduling system and assist with optimising their productivity while maintaining the highest level of safety for their drivers.

When looking at fatigue events, Guardian analysts used two categories — drowsiness and microsleep.

Drowsiness being when the driver’s eyes appear to be heavy and eye closures are dramatically slower or more rapid and the driver appears to be fighting the onset of fatigue. A microsleep, however, is when the driver appears to be in a state of sleep.

The key indicators in this regard include uncontrolled eye closure, eye rolls, long eye closures, and head bobs where the driver has lost control of their neck muscles.

According to the report, most fatigue events occurred in the early hours of the morning, and were at their lowest in the early evening, irrespective of the kilometres travelled.

Like with distraction, these trends are good indications for fleet managers to base their own safety practices on, as they work to minimise the risk to their drivers and passengers, their vehicles, freight and the communities through which they drive.

Seeing Machines’ technology portfolio of AI algorithms, embedded processing and optics can power products that need to deliver reliable real-time understanding of vehicle operators.

The technology spans the critical measurement of where a driver is looking, through to classification of their cognitive state as it applies to accident risk. Reliable ‘driver state’ measurement is the end-goal of DMS technology.

This includes monitoring critical safety events such as lane departure, monitoring vehicle control inputs like steering, pedal use and what is known as camera-based approaches like that offered by Guardian in which driver head pose, gaze and eyelid behaviour is monitored.

Considered an industry-leading driver fatigue and distraction solution, Guardian, according to Seeing Machines, which was founded in 2000, currently protects more than 800 transport companies with almost 52,000 connections in heavy vehicles worldwide and has been scientifically proven to reduce fatigue-related events by more than 90 per cent.

For the company, who have committed to producing the Guardian report annually, the data it has collected for this recent study provides a compass for understanding and mitigating risk associated with distracted and fatigued driving events among fleet drivers.

“Regrettably, driver fatigue and distraction persist as grim reapers on our roads,” says Paul.

“Only by confronting these issues head-on and cultivating a shift in driver behaviour can we collectively strive toward our shared goal of ensuring more people return home safely.”

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