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New device requires drivers to pay attention to the road

Over the past five years, legislators, state and federal regulators, safety experts and others have passed bans, adjusted regulations and spoken out about the dangers of distracted driving. Still, despite their efforts, thousands of people die each year in car accidents caused by people who simply are not paying attention to what they are doing. While most efforts to stop distracted driving have focused on the use of cell phones and other devices while behind the wheel, the reality is that the use of electronic devices is only part of the problem. The true cause of distraction related car accidents is drivers’ lack of attention to the road.

Up until now, researchers and safety experts have been skeptical that there was anything they could do to ensure that drivers were paying attention to the road while they were driving. Recently, the company Emotiv, which makes equipment used in encephalography, along with the Royal Automotive Club of Western Australia, announced the development of a car that does just that. The group’s Attention Powered Car will only run if its driver is actively paying attention to what is in front of him on the highway.

The key to the Attention Powered Car is a headset developed by Emotiv called EPOC. This headset measures the electrical activity in the driver’s brain and ensures that his entire attention is on the road. If the system detects that the driver’s focus has shifted to something else – the radio, perhaps, or a cell phone – it will signal to the car to slow down. The first Attention Powered Car, a modified Hyundai, will only operate at maximum efficiency when the driver’s brain activity shows that his attention is fixed on the task of driving.

Neither Emotiv nor the Royal Automotive Club of Western Australia has plans to develop their system for widespread distribution in its current form. Rather, the headset and software installed in the automobile were attempts to prove the feasibility of the concept and to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. In many ways, this system does seem to offer a technological answer for what some legislators and regulators have been attempting to do with laws and regulations banning texting while driving: forcing drivers to pay attention to the task at hand. Despite Emotiv’s apparent hesitancy to put more effort into this project, it may be an important first step to solving a major safety issue.