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Software could be the key to combating driver distraction

Proponents of autonomous vehicle technology claim that self-driving cars could virtually eliminate human error on the roads, but questions about the reliability of these systems have been raised in Connecticut and around the country after a self-driving vehicle was involved in an accident that claimed the life of a pedestrian. An SUV that was being used by the ride-hailing company Uber to test autonomous systems struck and killed a woman as she stepped into the road, and video footage taken from inside the SUV suggests that the person behind the wheel may have been distracted at the time.

Police have found evidence of driver complacency when investigating other accidents involving vehicles with autonomous systems. The Boston-based technology startup Affectiva develops software and artificial intelligence algorithms that monitor and interpret facial gestures and eye movements, and the company is working with major auto manufacturers like Daimler AG and BMW to adopt this technology for use in vehicles. A representative of Affectiva says additional hardware will not be required as the software being developed could be installed in the cameras used by self-driving cars.

Similar systems are already available. General Motors offers a feature called Super Cruise on some Cadillac models that issues audible and visual warnings when drivers may be distracted, and the feature even slows the vehicle to a halt and notifies the authorities if no corrective action is taken. This kind of technology has also come to the attention of safety organizations. Euro NCAP has said that evaluating tracking software that monitors drivers will play an important role in future auto safety testing.

Vehicles equipped with autonomous systems also record copious amounts of information that can be used by both car accident investigators and personal injury attorneys to determine what occurred in the seconds leading up to a collision. This information could also be used to establish negligence in car accident lawsuits if it reveals that no evasive action was taken or safety warnings were ignored.

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