Trying the Chevrolet Drowsy Driving Simulator Experience
Chevrolet Drowsy Driving Simulator showcases depths engineers go to recreate the end-user experience, for better or worse.
At this point, most people understand that distracted driving, such as playing with your phone behind the wheel, is a real issue. Equally dangerous is drunk driving, which, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), claims almost 29 peoples lives every day. But, did you know there is another, less talked about form of dangerous driving that multiple groups are trying to combat? It’s called drowsy driving, and if that phrase doesn’t immediately ring a bell, I don’t blame you.
It’s only recently that groups like the NHTSA have started collecting data on the problem of drowsy driving. To simplify, drowsy driving is the condition of driving in a sleep deprived state, and it is a real problem. Despite the data only covering recent years, in 2014 alone 846 people died due to drowsy driving. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of American adults admit to getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy, or otherwise being too tired to drive. Going even further, some 37% of people freely admit to having fallen asleep behind the wheel while driving, which is terrifying.
However, it’s not just safety advocates and wellness foundations taking note of this issue, so too are car manufacturers. Chevrolet, in an effort to better understand the effects of drowsy driving, and the circumstances surrounding it, has developed a simulation experience to replicate it. Now, Chevy is offering people a chance to experience their Drowsy Driving Simulator, and I was one of those people who got to take part in the experience.
The Drowsy Driving Simulator Experience
Parked amidst a sea of orange traffic cones is an even more orange Chevrolet Equinox. Chevy picked an Equinox for this test, as it best represents a real world family SUV driven by the typical consumer.
Sitting inside the trunk is the 23-pound simulator. It consists of a weighted bodysuit, with vest, ankle, and wrist weights, as well as a set of vision-altering goggles. After being strapped with the Chevy-branded body armor, it’s time to drive.
That sea of traffic cones is shaped into an impromptu oval, with a few little chicanes and kinks along the way. Inside the oval is a “T” shaped lane that splits, going left and right.
My first lap in the Equinox was unremarkable, other than being weighed down by the Chevy armor. After coming to a stop, one of Chevrolet’s representatives hands me their vision-obscuring goggles. The goggles are wired up to a controller, with said representative triggering the blinder function at random intervals.
Unsurprisingly, my second lap, with goggles equipped, was a mess. Not only did my average speed drop massively, from 20 MPH to just 6 MPH, but I was clipping cones, left and right, as I “fell asleep” behind the wheel.
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After the short-lived embarrassment of the circle course, it was time to tackle the infield “T” junction. During this exercise the “blackout period” would go from one second, to four. That four second interval better represents falling asleep at higher speeds, such as on the interstate, and covering more ground. However, there is more to the exercise than that. Chevrolet’s representatives said they would intentionally blind me just ahead of the split of the road, and shout “Left!” or “Right!” at the last second. If I failed to react to their prompt, we would be plowing a wall of cones. No pressure, right?
As I accelerated to about 30 MPH down the straight, the intermittent four second bursts of blindness seemed like an eternity. Even driving in a straight line was nerve-wracking. Then the split in the road approached and just as quickly, I was blinded. “RIGHT!” I cranked the wheel as hard I thought was possible. The Equinox leaned through the corner, and I think, managed to miss brushing up against the wall of cones. Eventually, my vision was restored, and I was ready to wrap it up. Who knew that driving around a parking lot could be so unnerving?
Why Did Chevrolet Do This?
Not only is Chevrolet bringing awareness to the public by doing these demonstrations, but the simulator exists for a more practical reason, as well. Chevrolet engineers are using this system to model real world driving conditions. The end goal is to further develop driver assistance technologies to prevent drowsy driving-related accidents from occurring. Similar technologies are available in certain high-end marques, and Chevrolet is doing its best to bring those driving aides downstream to regular, everyday cars, trucks and SUVs.
Much like lane keep assist, or radar-guided cruise control, alertness-related safety technology is fast approaching. Soon, vehicles of all makes and price tags will be able to alert drivers who may be nodding off behind the wheel. From giving a gentle tug at the steering wheel, to knowing when to automatically apply the brakes, this next-generation technology can and will save lives. The goal is ambitious and important: To end driving-related accidents.