Byline: FIONA MACRAE
AS motorists know, the boredom of a long car journey is enough to drive anyone to distraction.
After hours spent staring at a seemingly endless motorway, many have found themselves becoming less alert or even nodding off at the wheel.
Now scientists are developing 'intelligent cars' which can make our travels safer by reading our moods.
The vehicles are fitted with devices which capitalise on our sense of smell, touch and hearing to detect if we are sleepy, angry or stressed.
For example, cars of the future could be equipped with blink sensors to spot when a driver is becoming drowsy.
The sensors would be linked to built-in air fresheners which would fill the vehicle with the invigorating scent of peppermint the moment the driver appears sleepy.
And vibrating steering wheels - sensitive to changes in grip - could jerk drivers who are dropping off back to full alertness.
The sensors on the wheel could also detect the sweaty palms of a stressed-out driver and use the air fresheners to fill the car with the calming scent of lavender.
As well as devices to keep motorists awake, scientists are working on computer-generated horns and vibrating seatbelts, seats and pedals which could warn of potential accidents, giving the driver more time to brake.
Researcher Dr Charles Spence told the British Association Festival of Science in Dublin yesterday: 'It has been estimated that the average person spends ten per cent of their waking hours in the car and up to 50 per cent of car accidents are attributable to driver inattention. Hence, anything that can be done to improve the design of car warning signals so that they more effectively capture a driver's attention should help reduce the incidence of road traffic accidents. …