DEARBORN – Ford Motor Co. says it will install new lane-departure technology on Volvo vehicles by the end of the decade.

The company currently is studying which specific technologies it will bring to market. It is using the results of a 5-month study concluded last month here that the company says “proves that Ford is able to improve drowsy-driver reaction time through technology” in order to develop a production-ready lane-departure warning system.

The system could include fake rumble-strip sounds, the sound of a honking horn, artificially induced steering-wheel vibration and a head-up display that flashes red warning lights. Much of the technology either could be routed through the vehicle’s speaker system or through an electronic steering setup.

Other brands in the Ford stable could get similar technology following initial installation in Volvo cars and SUVs, Ford says.

Ford will install technology in Volvos that combats drowsiness.

Although Volvo Car has been influential in developing Ford’s understanding of driver fatigue, Ford recently has taken over the research of the issue and is cooperating with Volvo to bring solutions to market.

Most recently, Ford’s Vehicle Design Research and Advanced Engineering department monitored subjects participating in a study by using camera-based optic sensors and lane-departure simulation software fitted in a stripped-down Volvo S80. The sedan was slotted in Ford’s multimillion-dollar Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX) simulator where participants drive on a virtual highway.

Ford paid 30 non-employees $300 to participate in the study, according to the contract participants were required to sign. Each had to fit the Volvo demographic and be willing to commence the drive simulator portion of the study at 6 a.m. after staying awake all night and drinking no caffeine.

Ford employees also participated in a non-paid preliminary portion of the study.

Ford says the majority of subjects were at least moderately drowsy before getting in the VIRTTEX simulator and two actually asked to be excused during the driving simulation.

At a media briefing here last month, Jeff Greenberg, Ford’s staff technical specialist-Vehicle Design Research, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, called the study the most comprehensive and realistic research experiment of its kind.

To facilitate the usefulness of lane-departure warning techniques, Ford relied extensively on in-vehicle optic sensors fitted to a large brim ball cap that measure how long a driver’s eye is closed. Greenberg says Ford will have to package the sensor and related hardware in a non-intrusive way before it is ready for production cars.

Greenberg says although Ford’s technology works, it may not be readily accepted because the methods can be intrusive and annoying.

“What we discovered is that not every technology that helps combat drowsy driving is tolerated or well-liked by drivers. False alerts are considered annoying and could nag the driver to the point he or she turns off the system.”

Ford’s findings, which were released at the New York auto show, also point to some interesting trends related to drowsy drivers.

Middle-age women tend to fare best in the tests, having the fewest episodes of falling asleep while driving. Young drivers did the worst in the test, with two young men actually driving off the virtual road.

If drivers lack rest, they tend to fall asleep during the third hour of driving, Ford says, but don’t necessarily tend to slow down as a reaction to drowsiness.

“When a vehicle is traveling at 70 mph (113 km/h), you are covering more than 100 ft. (30 m) in just one second,” Greenberg says. “If you are asleep, you are putting yourself and others at great peril. Some participants who fell asleep at the wheel, when told that they were out for several seconds, were shocked.”

Ford’s concern over drowsiness stems in part from findings reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. and the National Sleep Foundation (NFS).

NHTSA estimates that 1,500, or 4% of all fatal crashes are related to drivers being tired and 100,000, or 1.5% of all crashes, involve fatigue as a causal factor.

NFP estimates that 51% of 100 million people say they have driven while fatigued in the past year, with 17% falling asleep at the wheel. Some 1,000 drivers say they caused an accident because they were too tired to drive.

While Ford is banking on its technology to work better than other methods – such as stopping for a break, fiddling with the windows or radio or even slapping one’s self – Greenberg admits that good old fashion sleep is the best remedy for fatigue.

“Nothing beats getting some sleep – either for 30 minutes, or better yet, a few hours.”

As for the participants, Greenberg says they were driven home from Dearborn, where they were to get a contractually agreed-upon duration of sleep.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com