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Smart seat belt could alert dozy drivers

An EU-funded consortium is working to create sensors that would integrate with seat belts and seat covers to alert drivers when they get sleepy.

By monitoring the body, the Harken system will alert sleepy drivers to take a break. Screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

My mother tells me that when I was a baby, the only way she could get me to fall asleep at night was to take me for rides in the car. While that may have bought my parents some peaceful evenings, it apparently has left me with the seemingly incurable curse of getting very sleepy when I drive long distances.

This, in turn, means my wife has to do a lot of our long-haul driving. But I know what we might be getting in our next car if it comes to fruition: a Harken.

Harken is an almost-acronym for heart and respiration in-car embedded nonintrusive sensors. It consists of sensors embedded in the driver's seat cover and seat belt that monitor breathing rates and heartbeat to determine whether the operator of the car is falling asleep. If that starts to happen, the system communicates with a processing unit that then alerts the driver to pull over and take a break.

An EU-funded consortium of companies and researchers working out of Spain's Instituto De Biomecanica De Valencia has been working on the prototype and testing it on a closed course. So far, so good. Street tests are up next, the consortium said last week.

According to the Harken site, about 100,000 fatigue-related crashes take place in the EU every year. The thinking is that the Harken system could significantly reduce death and injury from fatigue-related accidents -- a goal shared by an increasing number of vehicles that promise to take better care of us on the roads than we do ourselves.