SAFE Act May Make Driver-Monitoring Systems Mandatory

Volvo plans to install driver monitoring cameras in all of its vehicles. If the proposed SAFE Act becomes law, all automakers may need to follow suit. (Volvo Car USA)

New legislation proposed by three Democratic senators this week would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to study how driver-monitoring systems can prevent driver distraction and accidents caused by the improper use of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). If the findings gleaned from this study support it, the legislation calls for the creation of laws that make driver-monitoring systems mandatory.

The proposed bill is the Stay Aware for Everyone Act of 2021 – also known as the SAFE Act of 2021. The bill aims to address the threat posed by distracted driving. It’s co-sponsored by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

This proposed legislation will "specifically require the DOT to study how driver-monitoring systems can prevent driver distraction, driver disengagement, automation complacency, and the foreseeable misuse of advanced driver-assist systems." If the research backs it up, the legislation would enact rules that mandate driver monitoring.

That means that driver-monitoring systems would be legally required on all new cars. And if a vehicle’s driver-assistance system is not a full self-driving technology, then the car would need to verify that the driver is paying attention for the system to work. Organizations such as Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety, and the National Safety Council have all voiced support for the SAFE Act.

Automakers such as Volvo would have an easy time accommodating this regulation. Volvo has already announced plans to make in-car cameras – one way to monitor driver attention – standard in its vehicles.

Within the next couple of years, all Volvo cars will include in-car cameras and other sensors that monitor the driver. This technology allows the car to intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and risks an accident involving serious injury or death.

What about Tesla? That carmaker’s Autopilot semi-autonomous Level 2 driving assistance system does not currently use a driver-monitoring camera to make sure the driver is paying attention. Instead, the company uses sensors to determine whether the driver is holding on to the steering wheel or not.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration certainly has Tesla's Autopilot technology in its sights. According to Reuters, NHTSA has opened 28 probes into Tesla crashes (24 are still pending) where Autopilot may have impacted the outcome, including one in Texas earlier this month in which two people died.

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