Advanced Driver Monitoring Systems and the Law: Artificial Intelligence for the Road

Artificial intelligence technologies are expected to usher in a future where fully autonomous vehicles take people to their destinations without direct driver interaction.  During the transition from driver to driverless cars, roads will be filled with highly autonomous vehicles (HAVs) in which drivers behind the wheel are required to take control of vehicle operations at a moment’s notice. This is where AI-based advanced driver monitoring systems (DMS) play a role: ensuring HAV drivers are paying attention.  As big automakers incorporate advanced DMS into more passenger cars, policymakers will seek to ensure that these systems meet acceptable performance and safety standards as well as address issues such as privacy and cybersecurity related to use cases for the technology.  In this post, the technology behind advanced DMS is summarized followed by a brief summary of current governance efforts aimed at the technology.

The term “driver monitoring system,” also sometimes called “driver attention monitor” or “driver vigilance monitoring,” refers to a holistic system for analyzing driver behavior.  The principal goal of advanced DMS (as is the case for “older” DMS) is to return a warning or stimulation to alert and refocus the driver’s attention on the driving task.  In HAVs, advanced DMS is used to prepare the driver to re-take control of the vehicle under specified conditions or circumstances.

In operation, the technology detects behavior patterns indicative of the driver’s level of attention, fatigue, micro-sleep, cognitive load, and other physiological states. But the same technology can also be used for driving/driver experience personalization, such as customizing digital assistant interactions, music selection, route selection, and in-cabin environment settings.

Older DMS was adopted around 2006 with the introduction of electronic stability control, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning technologies, among others, which indirectly monitor a driver by monitoring a driver’s vehicle performance relative to its environment.  Some of these systems were packaged with names like “drowsy driver monitoring,” “attention assist,” and others.

Advanced DMS technology began appearing in US commercial passenger vehicles starting in 2017.  Advanced DMS is expected to be used in SAE Levels 2 through Level 4 HAVs.  DMS in any form may not be needed for safety purposes once fully autonomous Level 5 is achieved, but the technology will likely continue to be used for personalization purposes even in Level 5 vehicles (which are reportedly not expected to be seen on US roadways until 2025 or later).

Advanced DMS generally tracks a driver’s head and hand positions, as well as the driver’s gaze (i.e., where the driver is looking), but it could also assess feet positions and posture relative to the driver’s seatback.  Cameras and touch sensors provide the necessary interface.  Advanced DMS may also utilize a driver’s voice using far-field speaker array technology and may assess emotion and mood (from facial expressions) and possibly other physiological states using various proximate and remote sensors.  Data from these sensors may be combined with signals from steering angle sensors, lane assist cameras, RADAR, LIDAR, and other sensor signals already available.

Once sensor signal data are collected, machine learning and deep neural networks may process the data.  Computer vision models (deep neural nets), for example, may be used for face/object detection within the vehicle.  Machine learning natural language processing models may be used to assess a driver’s spoken words.  Digital conversational assistant technology may be used to perform speech to text.  Knowledge bases may provide information to allow advanced DMS to take appropriate actions.  In short, much of the same AI tech used in existing human-machine interface (HMI) applications today can be employed inside passenger vehicles as part of advanced DMS.

From a regulatory perspective, in 2016, 20 states had introduced some sort of autonomous vehicle legislation.  In 2017, that number had jumped to 33 states.  No state laws, however, currently mandate the use of advanced DMS.

At the US federal government level, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent agency that investigates transportation-related accidents, reported that overreliance on the semi-autonomous (Level 2) features of an all-electric vehicle and prolonged driver disengagement from the driving task contributed to a fatal crash in Florida in 2016.  In its report, the NTSB suggested the adoption of more effective monitoring of driver inattention commensurate with the capability level of the automated driving system.  Although the NTSB’s report does not rise to the level of a regulatory mandate for advanced DMS (the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets transportation regulations), and applicable statutory language prohibits the admission into evidence or use of any part of an NTSB report related to an accident in a civil action for damages resulting from a matter mentioned in the report, the Board’s conclusions regarding probable cause and recommendations regarding preventing future accidents likely play a role in decisions by carmakers about deploying advanced DMS.

As for the NHTSA itself, while it has not yet promulgated advanced DMS regulations, it did publish an Automated Driving Systems, Vision 2.0: A Vision for Safety, report in September 2017.  While the document is clear that its intent is to provide only voluntary guidance, it calls for the incorporation of HMI systems for driver engagement monitoring, considerations of ways to communicate driving-related information as part of HMI, and encourages applying voluntary guidance from other “relevant organizations” to HAVs.

At the federal legislative level, H.R. 3388, the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act (SELF DRIVE Act) of 2017, contains provisions that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to produce a Safety Priority Plan that identifies elements of autonomous vehicles that may require standards.  More specifically, the bill would require NHTSA to identify elements that may require performance standards including HMI, sensors, and actuators, and consider process and procedure standards for software and cybersecurity as necessary.

In Europe, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP), Europe’s vehicle safety ratings and testing body, published its Roadmap 2025: Pursuit of Vision Zero, in September 2017.  In it, the safety testing organization addressed how its voluntary vehicle safety rating system is to be applied to HAVs in Europe.  In particular, the Euro NCAP identifies DMS as a “primary safety feature” standard beginning in 2020 and stated that the technology would need to be included in any new on-road vehicle if the manufacturer wanted to achieve a 5-star safety rating.  Manufacturers are already incorporating advanced DMS in passenger vehicles in response to the Euro NCAP’s position.

Aside from safety standards, advanced DMS may also be subject to federal and state statutory and common laws in the areas of product liability, contract, and privacy laws.  Privacy laws, in particular, will likely need to be considered by those employing advanced DMS in passenger vehicles due to the collection and use of driver and passenger biometric information by DMS.