Detecting drowsy, distracted drivers

Detecting drowsy, distracted drivers

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UI awarded research contract to reduce impaired driving

The University of Iowa National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) recently received a new $650,000 research contract from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to research ways of detecting drowsy, distracted, and alcohol-impaired driving.

The new research extends previous work in this area. According to Timothy Brown, principal investigator on the study, the ability to differentiate between different types of impairment will be critical in deploying systems that can help mitigate these types of crashes.

The new project, titled "Driver Monitoring of Inattention and Impairment Using Vehicle Equipment (DrIIVE)," has two main aims: improving methods to detect distraction, drowsiness, and alcohol-based impairment; and evaluating the effectiveness of ways to reduce the effects of impairment by examining a system to alert drowsy drivers.

Female driver talking on phone in driving simulator
A new study will help researchers better differentiate between types of impaired driving behaviors. Photo provided by National Advanced Driving Simulator.

Susan Chrysler, director of research at NADS and chair of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Vehicle User Characteristics, believes that this type of technology has the potential to reduce the number of fatalities.

Since 2007, NADS, a research unit within the UI’s College of Engineering, has been actively exploring the application of vehicle-based sensors for detecting driver impairment due to alcohol, distraction, and drowsiness. The vehicle sensor data is becoming increasingly available on the vehicle communications network and provides a low-cost method of obtaining data to evaluate driver state.

Data that is now frequently available in the vehicle includes measures of steering wheel input, lane position, accelerator and brake pedal applications, speed, and headway. To date, the NADS team, along with John Lee, professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin, has developed and tested separate algorithms that can successfully differentiate alcohol-impaired, drowsy, and distracted drivers from unimpaired drivers.

“Although the number of fatalities has declined over the last several years, too many people are still being killed in motor vehicle crashes," she says. "The ability to eliminate some of the major causes of crashes holds the hope that we can begin to significantly reduce the number of deaths and injuries."

NADS research studies rely on participation from local residents in Iowa City, Coralville, and surrounding communities. The general public is invited to participate in research studies conducted at NADS by signing up at or contacting NADS via email at or calling 319-335-4719.


Tim Brown, National Advanced Driving Simulator, 319-335-4785
Susan Chrysler, National Advanced Driving Simulator, 319-335-4306
Gary Galluzzo, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0009


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