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Prevalence of driver physical factors leading to unintentional lane departure crashes

Cicchino, Jessica B.; Zuby, David S.
Traffic Injury Prevention (TIP)

Objective: Some lane-keeping assist systems in development and production provide autonomous braking and steering to correct unintentional lane drift but otherwise require drivers to fully control their vehicles. The goal of this study was to quantify the proportion of drivers involved in unintentional lane drift crashes who would be unable to regain control of their vehicles to inform the design of such systems.
Methods: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey collected in-depth, on-scene data for a nationally representative sample of 5,470 U.S. police-reported passenger vehicle crashes during 2005-07 that occurred between 6 a.m. and midnight and for which emergency medical services were dispatched. The physical states of drivers involved in the 631 lane drift crashes in the sample, which represented 259,034 crashes nationally, were characterized.
Results: Thirty-four percent of drivers who crashed because they drifted from their lanes were sleeping or otherwise incapacitated. These drivers would be unlikely to regain full control of their vehicles if an active safety system prevented their initial drift. An additional 13% of these drivers had a non-incapacitating medical issue, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) = 0.08%, or other physical factor that may not allow them to regain full vehicle control. When crashes involved serious or fatal injuries, 42% of drivers who drifted were sleeping or otherwise incapacitated, and an additional 14% were impacted by a non-incapacitating medical issue, BAC = 0.08%, or other physical factor.
Conclusions: Designers of active safety systems that provide autonomous lateral control should consider that a substantial proportion of drivers at risk of lane drift crashes are incapacitated. Systems that provide only transient corrective action may not ultimately prevent lane departure crashes for these drivers, and drivers who do avoid lane drift crashes because of these systems may be at high risk of other types of crashes when they attempt to regain control. Active lane-keeping assist systems may need to be combined with in-vehicle driver monitoring to identify incapacitated drivers and safely remove them from the roadway if the systems are to reach their maximum potential benefit.