What Happens if You Fall Asleep in an Autonomous Car?

yawning female driver fall asleep autonomous
What happens if you fall asleep in an autonomous car, and how can rousing a driver from a sound sleep be done in a kinder, gentler manner?

What happens if you fall asleep in an autonomous car? The Tesla Model 3, for instance, will begin to beep. Quietly at first, and then louder and louder as the warning in the dashboard goes from light red to fire engine red. If the driver still cannot be roused, the car comes to a complete stop. That can lead to being rear-ended, especially if your autonomous car is driving on the highway. A demonstration of what happens if you fall asleep in an autonomous car, can be seen here:

No autonomous car is completely autonomous. That’s the rule. There are certain maneuvers the autonomous car can’t manage. In the following video, for example, the driver left the highway to drive on a narrow residential street. But the autonomous car didn’t know it was supposed to slow down. As a result, the driver had to take control.

And in fact, that’s the rule—the driver of an autonomous car is supposed to always have his hands on the wheel, ready to take over at any given moment. Because, again—there is no such thing as a fully autonomous car. On the other hand, waking up to loud beeping, or worse yet, to a car crashing into you from behind, is startling. In and of itself, awakening in this manner can be a danger to the driver and those on the road, as the groggy, startled, half-asleep driver struggles to regain control of the wheel.

More Pleasant Ways to Wake Up

An interesting Japanese study[1] looked at more pleasant ways of awakening drivers should they fall asleep in an autonomous car. They used a driving simulator, and used a driver’s five senses to see how they responded when sleeping. The methods included in their testing included vibration, facial stimulation, and aroma. With each method, the researchers tested heart rate and eyelid closing and opening times before and after sleep. In this way, they could see which method was gentlest and caused the least discomfort to the driver.

And the winner of most comfortable method of waking up autonomous car drivers turns out to be facial stimulation. How to do it? You blow air into their faces. Rather not you, but a device. Rather than purchase a special device for this purpose, the Japanese scientists concluded that an air conditioner could be adapted to gently blow air at the driver’s face, should he fall asleep from behind the wheel.

Unexpected Glitches in Autonomous Cars

Unexpected issues continue to arise in regard to glitches in autonomous car systems. Not long ago, one Tesla driver discovered a feature that allowed for gaming while driving. This is incredibly dangerous to drivers, passengers, and others on the road. After some pressure, Tesla disabled the feature.

As new issues crop up, we need to address them and fast. Because if you should happen to fall asleep in an autonomous car, you want to make sure you wake up. Something you may not be able to do if a truck crashes into you from behind.

[1] Yamabe, S., Kawaguchi, S. & Anakubo, M. Comfortable awakening method for sleeping driver during autonomous driving. Int. J. ITS Res. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13177-021-00291-0



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