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Video of driver could help make semi-autonomous cars safer

Pennsylvania motorists may someday travel in autonomous vehicles that use video to ensure the driver remains alert. Some experts say this may help ensure that drivers are attentive enough to take control of the vehicle if the system makes an error or does not react in time.

Although some commercials for autonomous vehicles show people doing other things while the car drives and some Tesla owners have slept while behind the wheel, accidents can happen if the driver is not paying attention. This happened when a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian. Video showed that the driver's attention lapsed. Experts say that the technology already exists to monitor the driver and that it is simply a matter of installing the software.

The camera could use a number of factors to determine a driver's alertness including noting whether the driver's eyes were on the road, the driver's head angle, eye closure rate and even the driver's cognitive and emotional state. The semi-autonomous "Super Cruise" mode in Cadillacs already has this feature. First, the car sounds a warning alert if it detects that the driver is not watching the road. Next, it slows to a stop, turns on hazard lights and calls for emergency assistance. This happens in seconds if the car is moving at a high speed.

Autonomous cars may eventually make roads safer, but there will still be motor vehicle accidents, and until they are on the road in large numbers, human error will also continue to cause accidents. These accidents could result in serious injuries to others. If this occurs, compensation to cover expenses might be critical, and an attorney could seek a settlement with the at-fault motorist's insurer.

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