In-Cabin Safety Driving Rules: Will There Ever Be a Common Standard?

How many times haven’t we heard the saying, “rules are meant to be broken”? A guideline that, for example, the creative industry takes to heart and makes it part of their DNA when aiming for innovation. But there’s at least one place where rule-following is key to saving lives: the automotive industry.

In the transportation and vehicle industry, regulations for automakers and drivers, as well as all the suppliers in-between, are vital. Regulatory bodies influence the design process of the vehicles, the way their parts are manufactured, and the safety features included so vehicles are not just up to date but are, in fact, incorporating innovative technologies in a reasonable, law-abiding manner.

Regulatory bodies in the automotive industry set the course for what tomorrow’s transportation will look like. Just this year, Germany approved a bill that makes LVL 4 autonomous driving legal in the country and provides “world’s first legal framework for autonomous driving in regular operation.” And, in the past couple of years, we’ve seen more changes in the driver safety area than in the last decade! Driver monitoring systems, as a response to increased driver inattentiveness and drowsing, have taken center stage.

The countries with dominating automotive markets have been the most active, adding important requirements to their auto-centric laws.  

Driving Safety Regulations in Europe

In-Cabin Sensing

The Legal Provisions of 2018 in the EU Monitor were adamant in seeing motor vehicles be equipped with several advanced vehicle systems, including driver drowsiness and attention warning and advanced driver distraction warning.

The focus of this legislation was the design of the advanced vehicle systems in a way that respects user’s data privacy. Those systems could not “continuously record nor retain any data other than what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they were collected or otherwise processed within the closed-loop system”. Another concern was the overlapping of the systems, as it could confuse the driver: “shall not prompt the driver separately and concurrently or in a confusing manner where one action triggers both systems.”

Back then, passenger and light good vehicles had already implemented advanced emergency braking systems and emergency lane keeping systems to prevent accidents and keep car occupants safe.

In 2019, the European Commission‘s Internal market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, which focused on the automotive industry safety standards, was finally taking real measures to impose driver monitoring systems in cars. Specifically, starting in 2022 and over the course of four years, “all new cars with a certain level of automation must include tech to monitor drivers for signs of distraction or drowsiness.” Drowsiness and attention detection, as well as distraction recognition/prevention technologies are going to be outfitted for cars, vans, trucks, buses.

EURO NCAP is driving these regulations forward by having imposed DMS evaluation in May 2020, as part of the Safety Assist assessment to get the coveted 5-star rating. Besides DMS evaluation, EURO NCAP  started imposing a new frontal crash test and far-side impact protection evaluation last year and, from 2023, it will reward vehicles that offer child presence detection as standard.

Driving Safety Rules in the United States

Driving Safety Technology

The U.S. has moved at a much slower pace for the better part of the decade. NHTSA is very much aware of their struggle to reduce accidents brought about by texting while driving, so their campaigns and much of their efforts focus on educating drivers and punishing said acts.

However, driver monitoring has been on their minds since 2013. Less than a decade ago they were looking into distracted driving prevention and monitoring as a case study.

In 2020, the NHTSA is finally ready to allocate $17 million of their funds to distracted driving prevention and the SAFE ACT is announced. In this document, the regulatory body clearly outlines the roadmap for driver monitoring system implementation. By the end of next year, the United States Department of Transportation will conduct research into the use of DMS with the objective to have a final ruling by 2024. U.S. wants to make automakers compliant to the new ruling by 2026, five years from now.

Safety Regulations and Autonomous Driving in China

China Regulation

In other parts of the world, things have been on the move for quite some time now.

For the past two years, China has been making sure automakers include driver monitoring systems that detect not only inattention or drowsiness but the activities that could lead to either of the two such as smoking, drinking, and eating.

This year, China has moved forward with their plans to make transportation safer and easier. MIIT has made public the Draft Admission Guide which would provide a legal basis for level 3 and 4 autonomous cars. In the document, it becomes imperative that all cars have “human-machine interaction functions”, displaying the status of the vehicle as well as monitoring the driver’s behavior. Cars would also be able to talk among themselves through “light signals, sound and other means.”

Safety Regulations and Autonomous Driving in Japan

Japan is one step ahead of China when it comes to autonomous driving. And if you think about it, that’s not too surprising; in 2012, driver inattention warnings were already a standard safety feature in two car models, and optional, in another 22 car models. In 2018, Japan was already establishing a competitive strategy for automated driving, considering where Europe and U.S. found themselves then. One of their ten priorities happened to be Ergonomics, or “technology that allows the vehicle system to comprehend the driver’s conditions.” The policies regarding Ergonomics talked about the need to identify driver’s physiological and behavioral indicators and study ways of improving the driver’s comprehension of the state of the system, as well as the way automated cars could communicate with others in traffic.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry was also stressing the importance of achieving international standardization, which would help automakers and suppliers design solutions for multiple markets instead of catering to each market and its rules differently.

In 2019, in the Road Traffic Act, Japan was refining these regulations, imposing DMS for LVL 3 autonomous vehicles and preventive warnings of autonomous driving failure for LVL 4 cars. Last year, Japan drafted guidelines for DMS, starting with a scale from 1 to 5 to rate driver drowsiness and dozing off and ending with an in-depth discussion about the methods of evaluation of the driver’s state. For example, facial expressions detection like blinking, eye closure, and eye movement could be coupled with auxiliary information like driver’s vitals (pulse wave, heartbeat, etc.), behavior (presence or absence of steering wheel operation), speed, and vehicle behavior (lane departure, lateral wobbling, etc.) to evaluate the driver’s attentiveness.

This year, Honda released the world’s first LVL 3 autonomous car in Japan, after getting approval for their autonomous system from the government. With LVL 3 automation, the car and the driver are sharing the driving task for the first time. Only 100 cars will go for retail and Japan will keep a close eye on its movements via data recording.

More LVL 3 autonomous cars will likely go to market in Japan in the next five years, with LVL 4/5 cars bound to be commercialized in Japan from 2030.

Driver Monitoring Adoption: Who is Ahead of the Curve?

To no one’s surprise, I think, Japan is paving the way for compulsory driver monitoring systems in cars and asking for standardization of DMS requirements. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, which is LVL 5 autonomous driving, this is just one milestone to consider. And Japan has been “considering” it since 2012 when the U.S., for example, was only looking into it as a possible research subject.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the U.S. regulatory bodies have been the slowest to act in this matter in the early 2000s and are now having to race against time to catch up with the rest of the world.

While Europe isn’t running at the fast pace imposed by China and Japan yet, it is worth noticing that the European Commission is backed up by NCAP there, both urging automakers to add DMS as a safety driving technology in vehicles as soon as possible.

As far as DMS criteria is concerned, only Japan seems to have gone in depth into what that might imply, detailing drowsiness scales and evaluation methods. It’s no wonder then, that OMS (occupant monitoring system) is virtually non-existent in official regulations, although very much a priority for Tier 2 suppliers.

International Standardization, Better for Everyone Involved

Regulatory bodies appear to struggle to keep up with the latest innovations in automotive and they have yet to draft international standards for driver monitoring systems.

The issue with the lack of international standards is the “guessing game” in-cabin technology suppliers must play. Even after finding out the requirements per region for DMS solutions, the question remains: should they create different solutions for every market? And how cost-effective and time-consuming would this prove to be if those solutions would once again need to be tailored to fit high- and low-end cars? 

Would it not be better if the regulatory bodies invested in their own research and engineering divisions to stay ahead of the curve? In doing so, they would be able to keep up with the innovative solutions created by automotive suppliers and evaluate fairly each solution. In best case regulatory bodies would team up and set international standards that would reduce costs, clear confusion, and incentivize automakers to adopt requirements faster and at lower cost for everyone.

Until that happens, we risk authorities’ imperfect understanding of in-cabin solutions to make them wrongly associate those with the complex and controversial applications of artificial intelligence.

How can this be avoided?  By bringing OEMs, Tier 2 suppliers, experts, and officials to the same table to prevent misunderstandings and push forward innovation in the automotive industry.  All parties need to sit down and discuss the differences in machine learning training and the multiple ways AI can be used.

The first bricks have been laid. For the Trustworthy AI panel, we brought together members of the EU Parliament, automakers, and engineers to precisely discuss those differences.

This type of panel was just one way, our way to try and reach consensus regarding in-cabin innovations and their importance for tomorrow’s transportation. It is our job, after all, to have conversations that help authorities make educated decisions with the interest of the driver, passengers and everyone involved in transportation in mind. Imagine how far the automotive industry could go if such talks would become the norm!

Gereon Joachim is working in the automotive industry for 26 years now, and has been making car rides more enjoyable and safer ever since. He spends most of his time innovating, and thinking outside the box to create the extraordinary experiences customers are looking for. He is still looking to buy a Porsche 912 from 1969, so it matches the year of his birth.




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