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Can facial expressions predict truck accidents?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted July 1st, 2013

Auto facial recognition technology to interpret  driver fatigue by reading facial expressions

truck driver fatigue

Auto technology is becoming so advanced that it will soon be able to read a truck driver’s facial expressions and muscle movements to determine whether the driver is too tired, too distracted, or even  too angry to safely drive his or her tractor trailer.

In conjunction with PSA Peugeot Citroën, scientists at the Transportation Center and Signal Processing 5 Laboratory of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland are developing a new and advanced technology that uses a camera to capture facial expressions, and uses software to look for signs of distraction and emotions that could indicate that the driver is not fit to be behind the wheel, according to an article on tech website wired.com, Active Auto Safety Gets in Your Face.

If this technology comes to fruition, it would be groundbreaking. Each founding lawyer of the Truck Roundtable spends so much of our time working with the truck industry on ways to prevent truck litigation and injury lawsuits (including taking 90 minutes of your questions on the Dave Nemo show on Sirius Road Dog Radio). But this technology goes beyond that, by detecting a potential problem at the root before it becomes a truck wreck.

And it isn’t just for tired or angry truck drivers. This technology has promise for all drivers and could be a real solution for stopping distracted driving in its tracks, as well as road rage, falling asleep at the wheel, driving drunk, texting, and so many other ways that people kill and injure themselves in car accidents.

But today I want to discuss how this technology could greatly benefit the trucking industry, where as a lawyer I see fatigued driving as rampant and a primary cause of countless preventable truck wrecks.

Truck driver fatigue kills people

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates truck driver fatigue is a factor in at least 30 percent of truck crashes, according to an Associated Press article, Fatigue cited in Okla. crash that killed 10.

Research shows the risk of a truck wreck increases twofold after eight hours of consecutive driving.

And truck driver fatigue is the leading contributing factor in trucker deaths from crashes.

Currently, truck drivers hauling goods have to follow the 14-hour rule, where they may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty (For more information, take a look at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration summary of Hours of Service Regulations).

All of the members of the Truck Roundtable are experienced  attorneys who have litigated  truck wrecks due to fatigued driving. We all believe the 14-hour rule – which is so embroiled in controversy as being too restrictive by the trucking industry today – doesn’t even go far enough.

And whether it is a cause or effect of hours of service rules, we also see the trucking companies in our own cases lean hard on their drivers to drive past the regulated hours of service so they can get their loads to the destinations quicker.  This turn over a larger profit, as the company can then use its trucks and drivers to make more trips. Many truckers either break the law and sacrifice rest and safety of other innocent people on the road, or they risk losing their jobs.

Consequently, countless lives are put in jeopardy while tired truckers are barreling down the highway. And many innocent people die and are injured in truck accidents caused by fatigued truck drivers.

If there was technology that could read the drivers’ faces, sense when they’re fatigued and then alert them and their safety directors, lives would be spared and roads would be safer.  And that is a primary mission of our Truck Attorneys Roundtable.

Putting theory into action

The next step for the Swedish camera technology is to test the facial-recognition feature in real-world conditions.

“We aim at optimally exploiting computer vision technologies to improve safety and comfort in cars through more natural human-machine interfaces,” said Jean-Philippe Thiran, the director of EPFL’s Signal Processing 5 Laboratory, in a published report.

Meanwhile, there are other automakers working on similar technology:

Toshiba: Toshiba showed a facial-recognition system that searches for distraction.

BMW: BMW’s “pupilometry” research focuses on tracking driver’s eyeballs to better understand how much visual stimuli can be absorbed before distraction ensues.

Swedish company Tobii Technology: Tobii has developed a system that watches a drivers’ eyes – even while wearing sunglasses – to tell if they’re showing signs of fatigue or focused on a cell phone.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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